Soil CRC: building soil resilience naturally

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Publication Date: 
November 2020
Case study from: Industry Innovation and Science Australia annual reports

The Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soils (Soil CRC) released new research. It shows how we can naturally care for the fragile soils of Australia. Our soil is the mainstay for our food, biodiversity and water future.

The Soil CRC researches practices that help farmers improve their soil. They work collaboratively with scientists, industry and farmers.

One Soil CRC project is investigating which cover crops can be grown on fallow paddocks. This is to improve soil resilience.

Research scientists are trialling cover crops that add extra nutrients to the soil when they break down.

One of these plants is a large legume called Sunn Hemp. Sunn Hemp can fix its own nitrogen from the atmosphere and has a large root system that creates a lot of biomass. It becomes food for microbial life as it decays.

Soil CRC scientists are also using plants to physically open the soil to reduce compaction.The Tillage Radish is an example. This plant has a large taproot which opens the soil. As it breaks down, large holes form in the soil. This means when it rains there is an easy pathway for water.

The soil will be tested in a lab to see how it performs when exposed to water stress.

The hope is that mixed-species cover crops will result in bigger, better yields. It is also hoped these yields might be more resilient to climate variability.

These types of alternative management practices are becoming more important. They may benefit those using farming systems or chemical inputs that are becoming more costly.

“By growing cover crops, farmers can maximise organic inputs into soil, increasing microbial abundance and biodiversity, and potentially increasing plant available nutrients” said Dr Lukas Van Zwieten, Integrated and Precision Soil Management Solutions Program Leader, High Performing Soils CRC.

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