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