“It’s underfoot but often forgotten yet our soil resources are crucial to our very existence,” says the Chief of CSIRO Land and Water, Dr Neil McKenzie.
“Any gardener or farmer knows that soil is an astonishing material. It’s the natural reactor in the landscape that forms the basis for our supply of food, clean water and biodiversity.”
Australia is a net exporter of food and our agricultural landscapes currently feed 60 million people. This food production relies on healthy soils, adequate nutrients, and committed farmers and land managers. However, maintaining adequate food production levels in light of; increasing population, climate change impacts, increasing costs of energy, constraints on carbon, land degradation and the finite supply of productive soils, is a major challenge.
“When we are looking at soils and their role in producing food and other environmental services, we have to take a global view. We need to know how much good quality land we have now, and where it’ll be under our future climate,” Dr McKenzie said.
“Despite great improvements in crop production, Australia faces specific issues related to soil degradation. As many as 25 million hectares are affected by acidity and large areas have unsustainable rates of soil erosion. While land management practices have improved substantially in recent decades, we do not have accurate figures on the extent of the problems and current rates of change in soil condition.”
There are opportunities to improve our soils and according to Dr McKenzie, there are many areas of the world where food production can be improved significantly.
“From the beneficial activities that land managers undertake at the local level, through to having better and more accurate assessment techniques nationally and globally, we can make a lot of progress,” he said.
CSIRO is a significant contributor to the nation’s soil science in areas from nutrient and fertiliser use to carbon sequestration and efforts to build new national and global soil monitoring and forecasting systems.
Leading CSIRO soil scientists will join more than 1700 national and international colleagues from 1-6 August in what will be the first world soils congress held in Australia since 1968.
The international congress is bringing together experts from over 60 countries and covers topics such as soil formation, energy and food security, carbon sequestration, digital soil mapping, plant and human health, and attracting young people to a soils career.
Dr McKenzie is presenting a keynote address to the congress at 11:40am on Monday 2 August.
Media are invited to attend a media briefing at the Brisbane Convention Centre at 10.30-10.50am on Monday in the media room (M9 on the mezzanine floor).