Debate @ the Waite in the City … on soils

“Australian soils are more fertile now than they’ve ever been”

Our understanding of the soil has changed dramatically over the last 150 years, from ‘ground-up rock’ to a dynamic, living ecosystem.

Soils contribute significantly to Australia’s food and fibre production, worth $23.6 billion, in 2009-2010, as well as supporting the economic growth of rural and regional communities. An estimated 63% of the Australian landscape is managed under agriculture or forestry. Food production on Australian soils provides 93%of our domestic food supply and feeds another 40 million people outside Australia every day.

Soil fertility refers to the physical, chemical and biological attributes of the soil which affect the availability of nutrients for plants to use. Soil fertility is lost when more nutrients leave the soil than are added to it, as well as through processes such as erosion and salinity. The impact of European land use on Australian soils was extreme, with severe erosion, organic matter loss and nutrient depletion commonplace across large areas.

We now know that the way we’ve managed our fragile Australian soils in the past was unsustainable at best, and at worst, caused permanent infertility and lost production potential. However, with increasing knowledge we have improved our farming practices to maintain, and in some areas increase soil fertility. For instance, conventional cultivation, where ploughing the soil is the main method of managing crop residue and controlling weeds, was reduced to 1.4% of the area used to grow crops in 2011.

So have we learned to manage our soils sustainably? Or did we learn the lesson too late and have permanently limited our productivity?

In this debate, moderated by Dr Paul Willis, Director of the RiAus, we will explore these issues as six experts in two teams argue for your vote.

Team for the Affirmative
Associate Professor Ann McNeill
Soils Research Group, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, The University of Adelaide
Dr Nigel Wilhelm
Research Leader, Farming Systems, SARDI
Professor Rob Fitzpatrick
Professorial Research Fellow & Director, Acid Sulfate Soil Centre, The University of Adelaide

Team for the Negative
Dr Patrick O’Connor
Visiting Research Fellow, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, The University of Adelaide
Dr Ashlea Doolette
Research Fellow, Soils Research Group, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, The University of Adelaide
Mr Richard MacEwan
Senior Research Scientist, Department of Environment & Primary Industries, Victoria

When: Thursday 11 July, 2013 6.00 – 8.30pm
Where: RiAus, The Science Exchange, 55 Exchange Place, Adelaide. Finger food provided and cash bar available

Admission is free, but prior registration is essential as seats are strictly limited.
Live-streaming of the event will be available from 6.30 pm CST.
To follow the debate on Twitter use #agchatoz and follow @waiteresearch and @RiAus


One thought on “Debate @ the Waite in the City … on soils

  1. waiteresearchinstitute Post author

    We had previously advertised our debate as featuring Professor Iain Young from the University of New England. Unfortunately he is no longer able to participate and we are most grateful to A.Prof Ann McNeill for stepping in at short notice. ^HB


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