Dr Alastair Robertson, Group Executive, Food, Health and Life Science Industries.
The future of Australia’s agricultural sustainability is vital
The future of Australia’s agricultural sustainability is so vital that CSIRO has invested and will continue to invest in a rigorous and significant research effort aimed at tackling some of the big issues facing Australian agriculture now and into the future.
3 April 2007 | Updated 14 October 2011
For over 80 years CSIRO has provided the scientific basis on which Australia’s farmers can remain competitive in responding to economic, social and environmental needs.
As an organisation we do not advocate specific farming systems. We conduct underpinning science and its research and knowledge feeds into all farming systems from conventional through to organic.
It is quite clear that in the 21st century agriculture must take account of consumer expectations for efficient and effective food production while minimising any impacts of farming on the environment and the sustainability of natural resources.
Our research is demonstrably world class, and has and will continue to be applied to create the innovation on which Australian industries can respond to the market place.
In the case of agriculture, the following are some examples showing how CSIRO’s work is responsive to the economic, social and environmental needs of Australian agriculture and community, and how it can be adopted by organic and conventional farming systems alike to meet their market niches.
Carbon uptake and soil health feature large in our research. Our breeding programs are developing cereals and pastures with deeper roots, which move carbon deep into the soil profile where it is less likely to break down.
Longer season cereals also act to move carbon into the soil and dual purpose wheats are providing a more sustainable system as the extended ground cover helps to protect the soils and nourish them as carbon is continually put back into the soil and evaporation of water from the soil surface is reduced.
Deeper rooting plants also help to manage dryland salinity and acidity by mopping up excess water and nutrients.
Research is currently under way to develop plants that fix more atmospheric CO2. This will not only increase above ground growth and therefore yield, but importantly it will lock carbon into the soil. Breeding efforts are also providing plants with greater water use efficiency such as the CSIRO-bred wheat Drysdale.
“Our research is demonstrably world class, and has and will continue to be applied to create the innovation on which Australian industries can respond to the market place.”
Work on soil and root biology is helping us to understand and protect the valuable micro-organisms vital for maintaining soil health and the relationships they have with plants, in particular the roots of plants.
We are improving crop tolerance to acid soils through breeding and management - for greater sustainability of agricultural systems, particularly in areas such as Australia’s high rainfall zone where soil acidity is a problem.
Our work aims to help farmers reduce or eliminate the use of many farm chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers, especially the use of residual chemicals that might persist in the environment and enter our waterways.
High vigour wheats out compete weeds and shade the soil to minimise evaporation. This reduces the need for herbicides and increases water-use efficiency.
Better crop management practices such as earlier sowing times are resulting in better nutrient uptake and hence lower fertiliser use.
Classical biocontrol is using insects to control weeds, and now biopesticides along with conservation biocontrol, which uses existing beneficial insects, are helping to control other insect pests.
There is much, much more research across the organisation supporting Australia’s agricultural systems and because of the importance CSIRO places on a sustainable future for Australia’s agricultural industry it has set up the Agricultural Sustainability Initiative.
This new initiative has around 300 people involved and will leverage the full capabilities of CSIRO and its partners and comprehensively deliver a multi-disciplinary science portfolio at national, regional and local scale.
Read more about Dr Alastair Robertson: Deputy Chief Executive, Science Strategy and Investment.