Experts talk soil

FARMERS are learning how to get the most out of their soil from international scientists at a workshop in Bendigo this week.

The Soil Change Matters International Workshop is hosting scientists from 16 countries to share knowledge, meet their Australian counterparts and plan future collaboration.

Changes in soil properties and processes include erosion, acidification and fertility decline.

Bears Lagoon farmer Bill Twigg was at a symposium on Tuesday at The Capital which was part of the four-day workshop.

Mr Twigg has a 2500-hectare mixed farm, with the main livestock being prime lambs.

He said he attended the symposium because he liked to "think outside the square".

"I like to get the scientists’ opinion on what we should be doing," he said.

"We know what’s happening but we don’t know why. We know the soil and the climate are changing and we’ve got to adapt in order to survive.

"We’ve got to be able to make the best of what we’ve got."

Soil ecologist Helaina Black traveled from Scotland to attend the workshop.

Dr Black, who works at the James Hutton Institute, said her work on soil microbes could have direct impacts on Australian farms.

A microbe is a single-celled organism that lives in soil. They interact with plants at the root, allowing the plant to fix key nutrients such as nitrogen.

"In the UK we are looking at more sustainable farming practices," Dr Black said.

"Can we use the microbes in the soil to help boost production?

"If you select the right plant, it self-selects the right microbiology in the soil. It’s all about the plant-soil interaction and how it can boost cropping yields.

"If we can demonstrate this in one crop in one country, it should be applicable elsewhere, including in Australia."

Dr Black said farmers had the opportunity work with soil biology.

"When they use compost or other organic matter they are already working with soil biology, they’re just not aware of it," she said.

"The type of material you put in reflects what the biology can do with it and influences what the plant can get out of it."

Event organiser and Department of Environment and Primary Industries soil scientist Richard MacEwan  said "soil change" was an issue of international significance.

"Soil is important to all of us," he said.

"It is a silent servant that needs to be sustained so it can continue to provide the services necessary for agricultural productivity and environmental health – both of which are essential for our survival."

Mr MacEwan said the symposium was designed for anyone concerned with the future of soil. The workshop concludes on Wednesday.

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