Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 01, 2022


Soil Science Challenge

The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (15:12): My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Will the minister inform the chamber about the soil challenge project?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:13): I thank the member for this question. SARDI researchers, in partnership with the University of Adelaide, are taking a leading role in determining the past, current and future drivers of soil change. Soil, obviously, is vital to our farming systems, and primary producers in South Australia have made substantial changes in on-farm management practices to sustainably manage their soils to enhance productivity. There's been a shift from cultivation to no-till systems, from cereal-on-cereal crop rotations to the inclusion of legumes and the use of soil amelioration strategies, including clay spreading, deep ripping and lime applications.

Over the past 20 years, the SARDI Molecular Diagnostic Centre has DNA tested more than 10,000 soil samples collected from across different soil types and farming systems. This valuable soil DNA archive provides a historical snapshot in time of the soil microbial community leading up to and resulting from the major shifts in management practices in our farming systems.

This new soil challenge project aims to determine how the soil biology diversity has changed in the last 20 years, as farming systems have changed. A subset of the soil DNA samples will be sequenced to identify the type of soil biota across regions and how this composition has varied through time.

Once identified, this information will help to determine the agronomic drivers of soil biology communities to either reintroduce past practices or amplify current practices that favour more diverse and active soil communities for improved soil health. Identified drivers of soil biology communities will be tested under controlled greenhouse conditions and then validated in field trials across South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria. A key feature of this work involves work on-farm to validate findings, and indeed this on-farm approach provides an excellent opportunity to help both ground and guide the research.

SARDI scientists and researchers continue to provide high-quality advice and research, which ultimately increases productivity, sustainability and adaptability of the state's agriculture, food and wine, fisheries, aquaculture and biosciences enterprises. This project will result in new and advanced knowledge that will help secure long-term agricultural productivity. I look forward to updating the chamber again in the future on the progress of this excellent project.