Monday, 10 July 2006 - 2:35 PM

Sustaining Soil Science 'down-under'.

Brent Clothier, HortResearch, Tennent Drive, Palmerston North, New Zealand and Richard Macewan, Dept of Primary Industries, Po Box 3100 Delivery Centre, Bendigo, VIC3554, Australia.

Soils are critical for the productive economies of New Zealand and Australia, as well as for the protection of our landscapes. New Zealand and Australia have contrasting landscapes. One is young, humid, tectonically active and geomorphologically dynamic. The other is the oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent. The Land of the Long, White Cloud; and the Sunburnt Country. Land-use changes involving increased irrigation and fertiliser use, plus environmental exigencies created by salinisation, acidification and nutrient runoff are, however, putting pressure on the sustainability of our agricultural systems. There are meanwhile demands for improved protective measures to sustain our natural estates and protect receiving aquatic-environments. New understanding of soil functioning, and better knowledge of the manifold processes operating in the soil, are required for development of sustainable management strategies for our distinct landscapes ‘Down Under'. We describe the initiatives by Anzac soil scientists to address these issues. In the case of New Zealand, we focus on the dramatic changes that have recently unfolded. In microcosm, this excursion highlights the challenges, pitfalls and opportunities for sustaining soil science. In New Zealand, the bulk of soil-science research is carried out by four of the nine Government-owned research companies (Crown Research Institutes, CRIs). Soil science in New Zealand is now looking forward to new, long-term investment from central Government. This is a reversal of fortunes. In 2003, the Government's investment in soil science research was halved, putting at risk nearly 38 FTEs of science capability in the CRIs. Initiatives that were reliant on our participation of end-users and stakeholders resulted in a reversal of the 2003 funding decisions. New investment was realised for an unincorporated joint venture between the 4 CRIs; a programme we have aptly called SLURI – the Sustainable Land Use Research Initiative. The Australian funding situation is more complex: Australia being a federation of eight states and territories. Soil-science research is carried out by the federal agency CSIRO, as well as by the primary-industry departments of the various States. Funding for natural-resource research is allocated on a competitive basis and usually requires state and federal agreement to co-fund projects. Soils research is also supported by research and development corporations through levies collected from growers. The Australian Research Council provides funding for University-led research and this has been used for soil research, particularly in applied projects co-funded by industry partners. Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) have been supported by federal funds to create research alliances between state and federal organisations, universities and the land-based industries. The three principal client groups for soil-science research in Australia and New Zealand are: • Central Government, and in Australia, the State Governments, whose needs relate to natural-resource protection, environmental reporting, and maintenance of the soil's natural capital to support growth in primary production and sustain environmental quality. • Regional authorities, whose soil-related requirements are for resource planning, assessments of risks, and the strategic management of landscapes. • The land-based primary industries, whose needs are related to production, product quality, sustainability, resilience and soil health. We describe the benefit from participation with these groups for ‘whom' there is value in the ‘why' of ‘what' we do in soil-science research. Participation with end-users affects the policy that guides science investment. Policy establishes priorities for science purchase by governments and authorities, as well as by the land-based industries. This investment then advances our research into the functioning of soils. We conclude by suggesting that once we know the ‘why' and for ‘whom' we work, our soil-science discipline will find it a simple matter to determine ‘what' we need to do. Our science, and our end-users, mutually benefit from interactive participation. Our end-users' have the expectation that we as soil scientists know about the unique functioning of our Earth's skin, and that we are actively pursuing innovation, and that we are making breakthroughs. Through participatory and consultative processes, SLURI scientists in New Zealand, and CSIRO researchers and State scientists in Australia, are working with policy agents and end-users from central and state governments, as well as regional authorities, and representatives from the land-based industries and community groups. We describe what our soil-science priorities are. Also, we detail how these are linked to research and capability development in our Universities. Soil science ‘Down Under', and around the World, has an exciting future in prospect. We need to focus on developing sustainable solutions for our land-based enterprises. Certainly there are critical soil-based issues in need of research. We need our science to provide management options for both productive lands and the natural estate. These protocols will ensure that we do not diminish the value of the natural capital of our soils, and that we maintain, or enhance, the ecosystem services provided by soil. We have the tools, and we have the capacity to develop new soils' knowledge to ensure beneficial outcomes - both economic and environmental. Through participation with our constituents, and involvement in their policy initiatives, we can ensure continued purchase of our skills, which will advance soil science. Innovation and breakthroughs will follow.

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