South Australian researchers are set to examine 10,000 historical soil DNA samples in a bid to improve Australia’s agricultural sector in the future.
The researchers, from the University of Adelaide, the Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) and the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) will analyse how soil biology composition has changed since the early 2000’s in a bid to improve productivity, profitability and resilience for Australian agriculture.
Professor Timothy Cavagnaro from the University of Adelaide and Dr Rhiannon Schilling from SARDI are leading the “Past, present and future drivers of soil change” project.
Professor Cavagnaro hopes to find out if the diversity and composition of soil in past farming systems has changed from those in the present.
“If it has changed, can we introduce practices from past farming systems, or amplify practices of current farming systems, that further maximise the diversity of current day farming systems?” Professor Cavagnaro said.
“This project will result in new and advanced knowledge that will help secure long-term agricultural productivity.”
SARDI will utilize their Molecular Diagnostic Centre to analyse the extensive soil DNA archive, which contains more than 10,000 samples collected from cropping paddocks across Australia.
“This new study is an opportunity to use these historical changes to identify key drivers in our farming systems”, Dr Schilling says.
“By learning from the past, we aim to enhance future on-farm management decisions focused on optimizing soil biology to increase crop productivity.”
The three-stage project has secured more than $3 million in funding from the Federal Government’s Soil Science Challenge program.
“The first stage will focus on the DNA archive of soil and to identify the biological changes,” Dr Schilling says.
“Once we have that information, the third stage involves undertaking control experiments, to see if all test results align.
“The third stage will work towards validating the findings on farms, conducting on-ground trials.”
Viticulturist Nigel Blieschke said testing soil is important for understanding farms of any kind because having good soil structure and good biological activity within the soil makes for healthier plants and better crops.
“Testing soil is very expensive, especially when testing the biological activity, so if the government is funding such a program, it will be beneficial for everyone,” Blieschke said.
“Getting more data will help find issues, and help improve things like filtration, productivity and water use.”
The project is due to start in mid-2022, with final reporting expected in late 2025.