James Whiteside writes about soil health in Australian agriculture

SOIL HEALTH: AUSVEG chief executive James Whiteside argues vegetable producers take soil health seriously. Picture: Supplied
SOIL HEALTH: AUSVEG chief executive James Whiteside argues vegetable producers take soil health seriously. Picture: Supplied

Australian vegetable growers are at the forefront of employing sustainable growing practices that ensure our consumers are able to enjoy a wide range of fresh, locally grown vegetables all year round.

By maintaining healthy soils and employing environmentally-sustainable practices to maintain their upkeep, we can supply fresh, healthy produce to consumers and help sustain a healthy vegetable industry for generations to come.

Recent commentary on our industry’s credentials in sustainability cites outdated research that is over a decade old – older than the iPhone!

This type of commentary is misleading consumers about the food that they eat and does a great disservice to the hard working growers who are using the most up-to-date research and technology to produce safe fresh vegetables and maintain healthy and productive soils.

Australia is a large country that has diverse counter-seasonal growing regions, meaning that we can satisfy demand for fresh vegetable produce all year round while maintaining healthy soils as different regions grow and harvest at different times of the year that are most favourable to production and soil management.

Linking soil health with year-round supply of vegetable produce is ill-informed and out-of-touch with current industry practices.

The industry now extensively uses sustainable practices to improve soil health, including reduced tillage, using cover crops and compost to increase organic compounds, measuring microbial and biological soil health, incorporating Integrated Crop Protection practices to reduce reliance on hard broad spectrum chemistry, soil testing for pathogens and organic matter and ways to increase soil organic matter.

Technologies such as GPS, satellite imagery, automated robotics and drones are used to monitor soil health to help growers make more informed decisions so they can grow healthy vegetables that do not come at the expense of the soil in which they are grown.

The Soil Wealth project is an extension project that focuses on soil health management in vegetable production and produces videos from some of the industry’s leading growers, including Southern Fields in Tasmania and Kalfresh in Queensland, who explain the techniques they employ to look after their soils.

It also produces information on the many trial sites across the country for consumers to see what is happening on farms near them.

Reports on these projects and technologies are freely accessible online (including via the industry’s research repository InfoVeg and the Soil Wealth website and Facebook group), as well as through an established extension network that covers the entire country.

Consumers who are interested in environmental sustainability can also look at the EnviroVeg website, which gives lots of information about the way our industry is looking after the environment through sustainable growing practices.

Soil health and environmental sustainability are vital to the success of a healthy crop and Australian consumers are lucky that their local growers are leading the way in employing world-leading sustainable growing practices.