This week the inaugural Soil Biology Masterclass was run at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment – University of Western Sydney. Soil biology is at the core of key processes underpinning agricultural productivity.
Nutrient cycling and availability, carbon storage as soil organic matter, soil water storage and movement, root and soil pests and diseases, are all determined or strongly influenced by soil biology. Our current management of soils, through tillage, fertilisers and pesticides, focus on the chemical and physical aspects, often to the detriment of soil biology.
Future improvements in agricultural productivity will increasingly be driven by soil biology. We are now entering a period where the scarcity and cost of energy, nutrients and water are limiting productivity growth. However, the demand for food and fibre continues to grow. New ways of explicitly managing soil biology is required to unlock low energy and nutrient input productivity.
This is the fifth Masterclass I have been involved in developing and another incredibly challenging, stimulating and enjoyable group to work with. The mix of researchers from three Universities together with the diverse industry participants ( private consultants, farmers, policy-makers, EPA, advisors, commercial suppliers and R&D managers) produced a “hothouse” for the exchange of ideas, testing of assumptions and the collective development of new understandings and insights into the role of soil biology in agriculture and our ecosystems.