South Australia’s primary industries and agribusiness are a significant contributor to the State’s economy with revenue (final sales of products and value of local processing) reaching $15.4B in 2020-21. The largest sectors are field crops ($4.5B), livestock ($3.2B), wine ($2.8B) and horticulture ($1.9B) all of which have soils at the heart of production.
The understanding and management of soils in production systems has long been, and continues to be, recognised as fundamental to successful farm production (notwithstanding the broader role soils play in the landscape and ecosystems). The SA Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub (SA Drought Hub) confirmed through its co-design process that soil and land management strategies, technologies and innovation continues to be important to production businesses across Australia. Stakeholders identified the following soil related priorities:
- Undertake initiatives and activities that increase and maintain the health and function of soils to improve the resilience and sustainability of crop and pasture production;
- Promote and encourage opportunities for carbon farming;
- Increase water and nutrient holding capacity of soils; and
- Matching soil and land capability to production for optimal and sustainable use.
Central to these priorities is understanding the characteristics of the soil (structure, chemical, organic, inorganic, organisms) to inform evidence-based decision making. As management consultant Peter Drucker espoused, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.
Farm business have had access to a number of resources to assist in understanding soil characteristics at various resolutions including well established soil testing and mapping services (both public and private). However, traditional soil testing can be expensive particularly at a resolution that supports modern farming systems.
Over the past 5-10 years, research organisations and service providers have been developing additional services across an array of products/methodologies to support farm businesses in understanding, characterising and making management decisions within a
given paddock or field. Further, emerging and novel technologies are being developed in a bid to reduce costs and encourage adoption of enhanced soil management. Examples include remote sensing and airborne platforms through to in field autonomous proximal sensors that can measure a characteristic on the go. More recently machine learning and artificial intelligence is supporting these innovative technology services to improve the spatial accuracy of the outputs.
Each of these services have benefits and limitations depending on the nature of the test, t