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Management impacts on health of soils supporting Australian grain and sugarcane industries

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Bell, M. J., Stirling, G. R. and Pankhurst, C. E. (2007) Management impacts on health of soils supporting Australian grain and sugarcane industries. Soil and Tillage Research, 97 (2). pp. 256-271. ISSN 0167-1987

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Article Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.still.2006.06.013


The grain and sugarcane industries are the dominant cropping enterprises in Australia. Both are facing similar problems in maintaining productivity and profitability, although the management practices employed to achieve these objectives in the two industries differ markedly. The farming systems of both industries have evolved in recent years as our understanding of the physical and chemical benefits of practices like residue retention, reduced tillage and controlled traffic have improved. However the impact of such practices is often evaluated in terms of cost savings, operational efficiencies and efficient capture and use of water.

Soil health has not always been an important consideration in system change in either industry, with the exception that crop rotation has always been recognised as important in minimising the impact of soil-borne pathogens. Rotations have been a key feature of grain cropping systems and short duration legume fallows are becoming more prevalent in the sugar industry after more than 25 years of monocultures. However, intensification of cropping in recent years has meant that the pasture leys that were once a dominant component of the grain rotation systems are increasingly being supplanted by short duration cropping breaks with grain legume or other non-cereal crops.

Soil organic C has generally been recognised as an important component of soil fertility, but more for the role it plays in soil physical and chemical fertility. Links between organic matter status and soil biological health, and particularly to farming system viability and sustainability, have proven difficult to quantify. This has been partly due to a lack of tools or criteria for monitoring relevant soil properties and also to our limited understanding of the interactions between soil health and other system components. However recent studies are suggesting that the amount and quality of organic matter returned as roots and residues, and the placement of that residue relative to areas of future crop root activity, may be significant factors in the sustainable farming systems of the future.

This paper identifies key issues associated with current and developing farming systems in the grain and sugar industries in Australia, and assesses the impact of management practices employed in those systems on soil health. It also identifies some key challenges facing soil biologists and farming systems researchers who are trying to achieve improvements in soil health and sustainability.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Sugarcane; Cereal grain; Tillage; Residue management; Rotation; Soil health
Subjects:Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Soils. Soil science > Soil and crops. Soil-plant relationships. Soil productivity
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Soil conservation and protection
Plant culture > Field crops > Grain. Cereals
Plant culture > Field crops > Sugar plants
Live Archive:19 Feb 2024 01:59
Last Modified:19 Feb 2024 01:59

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