A team of Southern Cross University students received a perpetual trophy for their win at the annual Soil Science Australia, National Soil Judging Competition.
The group of Forestry, Science and Environmental Science students took out first prize in the teams’ category and were also the overall winners of the competition, held in October 2019.
Tim Field, Lisa Henriksen, Christie Magarry, Luke Danaher and Shannon Waddy competed against more than 70 students from 15 other universities in Australian and New Zealand.
The team’s coach, Dr John Grant praised the students for what he called “an amazing effort.”
“To compete and do so well at that high level is a real credit to them,” Dr Grant said.
“At a time when Southern Cross is pushing strongly towards innovative agriculture these students have done the university proud.”
While Tim Field is applying his knowledge directly to the wetlands on South Australia’s Banrock Station, the other four students are finishing their degrees and starting research into other soil related areas – including the impact of recent fires on soil and vegetation relationships.
Dr Grant said soil judging was scientific in its analysis but “part art” in describing and assessing the physical and chemical characteristics of different soils.
“This sort of analysis usually requires lots of experience from a pedologist who has seen many soils and understand their origins that might range from thousands to millions of years ago. Pedology (the study of soils in the field) is essential for all agriculture, ecology, sustainability and ultimately the economy,” said Dr Grant.
“People ask me why I do it but I ask why you would be doing anything else? It’s that important.
“Losing about one quarter of the carbon in our soil would have the same carbon impact as if you cleared every piece of vegetation on the planet.”
The team was generously supported by School of Environment, Science and Engineering and the SCU Environmental Aanalysis Laboratory.
For Mr Field- a wetlands manager on South Australia’s Banrock Station vineyard – the victory was a genuine champagne moment.
“Nobody was even thinking about winning so it came as a very pleasant surprise when we were announced,” said Mr Field.
Mr Field chose Southern Cross to study Environmental Science because of the university’s high profile in this area of study.
Managing 1500-hectares in the Ramsar-listed wetland site at Banrock, he was particularly interested in deepening his knowledge about soils.
“We have soils that are acid sulphate and saline and understanding soil structure and composition is essential in their management,” he said.
Mr Field believes there is a growing appreciation of the intersection between agriculture and conservation because of their mutual dependence on quality soils.
“I think there’s been momentum for generational change and awareness is spreading.
“I’m doing this course at Southern Cross because I understood that by working in the industry you can only learn so much and so it pays to refresh your hands-on experience with academic study.”
Mr Field said he had discovered a lot of advances in technology and research since he first studied 15 years ago.
“I’ll be completing a review of the management plan here at Banrock and incorporating my new knowledge around soil management. There’s always been plenty of focus on fauna and flora but I can now concentrate on managing soils without having to rely on the CSIRO once I have the right tools to do so.”