Nutrients and Soils
Crops start with soils
Nutrients are a major limiting factor in plant yield and influence the quality of crops for human health and food processing. The predicted increases in crop production needed to sustain a burgeoning population will mean that greater quantities of nutrients will need to be taken up and exported from the land through crops. Furthermore, existing nutrient deficiencies in human populations (e.g. iron and zinc) can be addressed through improved nutrient management. At present, the efficiency of nutrient use in many cropping systems is low. Hence there is considerable scope to improve the efficiency with which crops accumulate and store nutrients in harvested products.
Increases in the price of oil, fertiliser and food have focussed attention globally on the need to improve nutrient use efficiency in agriculture, particularly in developing countries to keep food costs low. Efforts now need to focus on building farmers' resilience to future shocks and improving food security over the long term - and integrated nutrient management is key to this strategy. Most of the world's population growth is occurring in developing countries, and so the Waite Research Institute will focus its research efforts on these countries.
Australia's naturally nutrient-poor soils and variable climate match those of other major food production areas of the world (eg. China, Africa, Middle East), and our farming techniques and crop varieties are better suited to these areas than those of Europe and the US (for example). Researchers at the Waite Research Institute can assist developing countries to implement sustainable nutrient management practices that maximise yields and minimise nutrient pollution of rivers and lakes. Our research can also assist farmers to develop new ways of unlocking nutrients stored in the soil and developing new fertiliser formulations that ensure nutrients are more available.By bringing together research teams in soil chemistry, soil biology, soil physics, plant membrane physiology and plant cell physiology, the Waite Research Institute is establishing a hub for Integrated Crop Nutrient Management to improve the productivity of agricultural production, and the health of human populations. This new research focus will be enhanced through collaboration with plant breeders, health professionals, food chain analysts and international food and agricultural companies. The result will be cheaper, more nutritious food, and more sustainable farming systems that minimise pollution and maximise resource use efficiency.