The Soil Tech Project – Translating Soil Science into Digital Soil Management Tools for Agronomists and Land Managers

Andrea Koch1, Sam Duncan2

1 Andrea Koch Agtech Pty Ltd, 73 Kallaroo Road, Riverview, NSW, 2066,,

2 FarmLab, UNE SMART Region Incubator Level 2, W40 UNE Business School, Armidale, NSW, 2351,,


The Soil Tech Project is a collaborative project aimed at translating existing University of Sydney soil science into a suite of digital soil management applications for agronomists using User Experience Design and Agile Development. The partnership team of soil scientists, developers, agronomists and project manager are working across six development cycles over three years, to translate the science into code that is user centred, and field tested and ground truthed to provide innovative new approaches to soil management. The first development cycle is applying Latin Hypercube Sampling to defined sets of publicly available data, to create contiguous zones across a farm and/or within a paddock. The application then suggests a soil sampling design that ground truths these zones, using fewer samples than would normally be required to identify zones. The application has been field tested by agronomists. Development of this first tool will be completed by August 2019. The overall approach used in the Soil Tech Project is being observed and documented using an Action Research framework, in order to evaluate and replicate this innovative approach to translation of science into digital applications.



Evaluating gypsum and polyacrylamide use on irrigated pasture in northern Victoria

Andrew Sneyd

 Ancon-Agri 26 Clarence St. Shepparton, Vic, 3630,


The purpose of this research was to investigate the application of varying rates of gypsum and the liquid formulation polyacrylamide (PAM) Flobond™ on a ryegrass and shaftal clover pasture to determine the effects on germination and pasture yield in northern Victoria. Eight treatments were applied post sowing and incorporated with irrigation. Three treatments of gypsum alone, Flobond™ alone and with gypsum also the untreated control. The results of this trial found that rates of 5t/ha and 10t/ha of gypsum applied alone did reduce the establishment of the Turbo cv. shaftal clover (Trifolium resupinatum). No other treatments reduced the establishment of either the Turbo cv. clover or the Jackpot cv. ryegrass (Lolium Multiflorum).

Pasture yield was estimated by taking four biomass cuts during the trial which ran from March to November 2018. The treatments which had reduced clover establishment were able to compensate in yield by the first biomass cut 53 days after treatment (DAT). There was no statistical difference between treatments at either a biomass cut or cumulatively during the trial. The treatments of Flobond™ alone and with lower more economic rates of gypsum did have higher yields which show potential for further work with other formulations of PAM to reduce the costs of amending soil structure and improving water infiltration. The liquid formulation of Flobond™ was difficult to apply which may limit its potential use in this market.

Soil Compaction Survey and Sampling of Dairy Farms in the Goulburn Valley

Andrew Sneyd

Ancon-Agri, 26 Clarence St. Shepparton, Vic 3630


The objectives of this survey and sampling were to quantify the levels of soil compaction in Goulburn valley loams and identify if these levels may have be reducing pasture growth in 2017. The survey also sought to find the extent of soil compaction caused by high stocking rates of cattle on dairy pastures in 2016. Eleven farms across the Goulburn valley were selected to be representative of differing areas in the valley. These farms were selected because they had a paddock(s) which had been severely impacted by large numbers of cattle where pasture had been destroyed and the soil structure damaged. Soil Bulk density (BD) in g/cm3 was measured to indicate the level of soil compaction in the paddocks with severely impacted soil and compared with areas of the same or similar soil type where there had been little or no effect on the soil from cattle. These paddocks were analysed for soil fertility, pH and salinity. The paddocks were identified by soil type and group. Typically the soils tested were loams or sandy loams which were able to withstand high stocking rates. On average these soils had low calcium to magnesium ratios and low levels of sodium. The BD levels were measured at two depths, 0-10 cm (surface soil) and 10-20 cm (root zone). This study found that for 80% of the farms sampled, BD in the 10-20 cm zone was 1.6g/cm3 or greater. According to Taylor and Brar (1991) at this level of BD plant root growth can be severely inhibited because the soil is so tightly compacted. Analysis of the relationships between BD and calcium, sodium, soil type, soil texture and soil organic carbon (SOC) found that the correlation of BD with SOC was reasonably strong while all the other correlations were weak. This meant that where the SOC content was high the BD levels were low. When BD was plotted against SOC for both the compacted and non-compacted soils a difference of around 8% was consistently found which is attributed to the effect of the cattle.

A phone survey was undertaken to sample fifty dairy farmers in the Goulburn valley to investigate the methods used to prevent damage to pasture and remediate the soil from damage caused by cattle. The survey also sort to find the level of understanding on the impact of soil compaction on pasture production. Prevention of soil damage by the cattle was by far the most popular method using feed pads, sacrifice paddocks and non-arable land. Prevention methods were regarded as the best method of moderating lost production from excessively wet conditions. Very little work was done to remediate soil and the farmers’ understanding of the impact of soil compaction was low.

Soil wetting agents used to manage water repellence can benefit crops for more than one season though highest yields result from annual applications

G.P. McDonald1, S.L. Davies2

1 Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, 444 Albany Highway, Albany, WA, 6330,,

2 Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, 20 Gregory St, Geraldton, WA, 6530


Two small plot research experiments were established in 2016 at Darkan and Kojonup to investigate the longevity of banded soil wetting agents in duplex sandy gravel and loamy gravel soils in South-West Western Australia. Two commercial wetting agents were banded at sowing either in-furrow near the seed or banded on the furrow surface behind the press wheels. The experiments were designed to test residual or additive effects of the soil wetters by either applying or excluding them in different years to achieve different cumulative rates over the length of the trial. The 2017 crop rows were sown on or near the previous seasons rows for both trials but for the 2018 season off-row (inter-row) sowing was used at Kojonup. In the 2017 season at Kojonup some residual effect from the previous season was observed with the on-row sowing. In 2018, only treatments with fresh 2018 applications had crop yields greater than the control, with no residual effect of wetters. The Darkan site showed much smaller responses to any wetting agent treatment than Kojonup over both years. Some yield improvements were observed during the 2018 season with annual applications of wetting agents, but these were not as large as at Kojonup. Results over two sites and three seasons demonstrate that: a) annual applications are most effective at improving crop performance in repellent soils; and b) in some situations the amelioration effects of wetting agents applied in one season can carry over to improve crop performance in the next season.

Effects of in-crop nitrogen application on grain yield of wheat under waterlogged conditions

Dilnee Suraweera1, Fiona Robertson1, Malcolm McCaskill1, Brendan Christy2, Roger Armstrong3, Debra Partington1, Reto Zollinger1, John Byron1, Steve Clark1

1Agriculture Victoria Research, 915 Mt Napier Rd, Hamilton Victoria 3300, Australia
2Agriculture Victoria Research, 124 Chiltern Valley Rd, Rutherglen Victoria 3685, Australia
3Agriculture Victoria Research, 110 Natimuk Rd, Horsham Victoria 340, Australia


Waterlogging is a major constraint for wheat production in the high-rainfall zone (HRZ) of south-eastern Australia. During waterlogging, significant quantities of nitrogen (N) derived from fertilisers can be lost, reducing potential supply to the crop. A field experiment was conducted to quantify the effectiveness of different in-crop N application rates in reducing the effects of pre-anthesis waterlogging on wheat grain yield. The experiment was designed with two water regimes (waterlogged and rainfed) and four rates of in-crop N (urea) fertiliser (nil N, 70,140 and 210 kg N ha-1). The waterlogged regime was irrigated from mid-tillering (GS23) to flag-leaf emergence (GS39). In-crop N fertiliser rates were split; 70% at early-tillering (GS21) and 30% at flag-leaf emergence. At grain maturity, tiller number, ear number, above-ground biomass, grain yield and harvest index were determined. Results demonstrated that tiller numbers, ear numbers, above-ground biomass, grain number and grain yield significantly increased with increasing rates of N applied compared to nil N under both water regimes. Pre-anthesis waterlogging significantly delayed heading, anthesis and maturity (3-5 days) and significantly reduced tiller numbers (21%), ear numbers (11%) and above-ground biomass at anthesis (15%). This reduction was less under high N rates. Adequate soil moisture availability for grain filling in a dry spring followed by pre-anthesis waterlogging significantly increased grains per ear (24%) and this increase was greater at high rates of N application. Grain yield and above-ground biomass at maturity were not significantly affected by waterlogging at low N rates but increased 8-17% at high N rates. Pre-anthesis waterlogging significantly reduced grain protein content at low N rates but there was no significant effect of waterlogging on grain protein content at high N rates due to increased N uptake. Overall, adequate supply of N fertilizer before and after waterlogging can alleviate the detrimental effect of pre-anthesis waterlogging on wheat grain production.

Identifying potential areas of subsoil P and K deficiencies in Western Australia

Andreas Neuhaus, James Easton

CSBP Limited, Kwinana, Perth, WA 6966 Email,


Research projects around Australia have diagnosed subsoil constraints including nutrient deficiencies that cause yield limitations. This study reports the mapping of subsoil phosphorus (Colwell P) and potassium (Colwell K) values to generate awareness of these subsoil constraints among advisors and growers. Surface (0-10cm)- and subsoil analytical results (10-20 cm and 20-30 cm) from CSBP’s laboratory have been used to highlight P and K availability The maps identified a heterogenous soil nutrient profile, revealing subsoil limitations of P and K in many areas of Western Australia. A trend towards a higher contrast of P levels at depth was noted especially for the heavier textured soils in the medium to high rainfall zone. More subsoil or plant tissue testing is recommended to confirm the decline in P and K availability from subsoils. Regular soil sampling of the top 30cm of soil that contains the main root volume for nutrient uptake of most broadacre crops grown in WA is recommended to better understand nutrient requirements.

Improving yield on sodic soil: assessing the value of genetic improvement

Schilling,RK1, Taylor J1 Armstrong R2, Christopher J3, Dang Y3, Rengasamy P1, Sharma DL4, Smith R4, Tavakkoli E5, McDonald GK1

1 The University of Adelaide, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, Waite Campus PMB 1 Glen Osmond SA 5064,

  1. 2. Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Natimuk Rd, Horsham Vic, 3400

3 School of Agriculture and Food Science, University of Queensland, Tor St Toowoomba, Qld, 4350

4 Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia, Baron Hay Court, South Perth, WA, 6151

NSW Department of Primary Industries, Pine Gully Rd, Wagga Wagga, NSW, 2650


Soils with alkaline sodic (dispersive) subsoils are widespread in the Australian grains belt.  Improving the tolerance of wheat to the range of stresses encountered in these soils has the potential to improve yield and water use efficiency.  Wheat varieties were tested at sites on alkaline soils with varying degrees of sodicity in all mainland States.  The lines were also screened for tolerance to high boron, pH and aluminium.  Genetic correlations among sites from the southern and western regions were high but were markedly different from the Queensland sites.  The benefit of tolerance to multiple stresses was expressed at sodic sites with yields less than about 3 t/ha and tolerance to soil constraints was estimated to improve yields by up to 10% when yields were less than 2 t/ha.

Litterbag decomposition and nutrient change study of poultry litter

Anika Molesworth, Wendy C. Quayle, John Hornbuckle

Centre for Rural and Regional Futures, Deakin University, Hanwood, NSW 2680, Australia


Quantifying in-situ patterns of poultry litter (PL) mass decomposition and changes over time in NO3-N, NH4-N and Colwell P when applied alone or in combination with urea fertiliser helps farmers to synchronise nutrient additions to the soil with crop requirement. Using a buried litterbag technique in the field, decomposition and nutrient changes followed a two-phase pattern suggesting labile and recalcitrant PL components. Twenty-five days after burial (DAB), PL at 10 cm in loam soil contained64% dry matter (DM), 66% NO3-N, 16% NH4-N, and 69% Colwell P compared with initial concentrations at burial. After 27 DAB, PL in a clay loam had 73% DM, 8% NH4-N and 85% Colwell P remaining compared with initial concentrations, with increases of 6 times in NO3-N. Using an exponential model to estimate PL remaining values from day of burial until final excavation in the loam, it was determined there was 63% DM, 6% NO3-N, 5% NH4-N and 55% Colwell P remaining. After another 43 days buried in the clay loam, there was 63% DM and 2% NH4-N remaining of initial PL values, a 1.2 increase in NO3-N, while Colwell P had returned to starting levels. The rate of PL-N:urea-N had significant effect on NH4-N in phase 2, with greater concentration with higher litter ratio. Since only ~5% of starting PL NH4-N remained at the end of the experimental period on both soil types, the data indicates timely application of PL is required to synchronise any short-term N fertiliser benefit to a developing crop. The free-draining nature of the loam compared with the heavier clay loam are likely to be the main drivers of difference in PL decomposition and nutrient change observed between soil types. The patterns suggest that PL may better fulfil the expectations of a slow release nutrient source in a clay loam than a loam.

Re-engineering soil pH profiles to boost water use efficiency by wheat

Gaus Azam and Chris Gazey

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, 75 York Rd, Northam, WA, 6415,,


Conventional surface application of agricultural lime takes many years to increase pH deeper in the soil profile. This is a barrier for the adoption of liming as crop growers want a quick-fix to the subsurface soil acidity. We conducted a small-scale field trial where agricultural lime was incorporated at various depths to re-engineer soil pH profiles for quick improvement of grain yield and water use efficiency (WUE). Results show wheat grain yield was more than doubled due to combined removal of compaction and lime incorporation compared to the untreated control. Removal of compaction only also increased grain yield by 72% over the control. WUE was as high as 24 kg/mm due to deep amelioration of soil compared to 11 kg/mm in the control. Deep incorporation of lime increased soil pH by more than a unit and decreased Al concentration to below the critical toxic level within two months of lime incorporation. Wheat plants produced root systems 60-65 cm deep with amelioration of compaction and acidity compared to 20-25 cm deep for the control. Deeper roots allowed plants to extract water and nutrients from deeper soil horizons and avoid moisture stress, in the absence of sufficient rainfall, during the grain filling in 2018 season.

Waterlogging effects on soils and wheat crops in the high rainfall zone of Victoria

Fiona Robertson1,2, Dilnee Suraweera2, Malcolm McCaskill2, Brendan Christy3, Roger Armstrong4, Reto Zollinger2, John Byron2, Debra Partington2, Steve Clark2

1 Agriculture Victoria Research, 105 Mt Napier Rd, Hamilton, Vic 3300,,
2 Agriculture Victoria Research, 105 Mt Napier Rd, Hamilton, Vic 3300,
3 Agriculture Victoria Research, 124 Chiltern Valley Rd, Rutherglen, Vic 3685,
4 Agriculture Victoria Research, 110 Natimuk Rd, Horsham Vic 3400


Waterlogging is a significant constraint on crop production in the high rainfall zone of southern Australia. To better understand how waterlogging affects soil conditions and crop growth, we conducted field experiments to compare the effects of differing degrees of waterlogging on soils and wheat crops at three sites in SW Victoria. The apparent reduction in grain yield due to waterlogging ranged from nil to 38%, with a decline in total N uptake from nil to 40%. The effect of waterlogging on the crop was influenced by several factors including the depth of waterlogging, the duration of waterlogging, the aeration conditions (redox potential) in the soil and the timing of waterlogging. The importance of the various factors varied among sites and further work is required to evaluate their influence in different situations.


The Australian Society of Agronomy is the professional body for agronomists in Australia. It has approximately 500 active members drawn from government, universities, research organisations and the private sector.

Photo Credits

David Marland Photography Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt University

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