In hindsight there’s a lot of things that
we probably should have done earlier in my research career and not just me, I don’t think
I’m the only one at fault, but collectively there’s a lot of things we should have done
earlier. Now in the sixties people took soil testing
as gospel you know it came from BCRI at Rydalmere or with… back as ‘AFL’? – Yes ‘AFL’
in those days at Chester Hill and everyone believed their soil test results and then
people started to question how accurate are these soil tests? Sometimes we get some really
dodgy advice and I’m not sure I really believe some of these soil tests. Maybe they’re just
being driven by fertilizer companies and I’m not so sure I should believe this advice because
all I get told is you need more super – I’ve been putting out super for 20 years – Why
do I keep needing more super or… Why didn’t they tell me I needed lime? And so one of the problems we’ve had as
an industry is that perhaps we haven’t integrated everything terribly well. We’ve had lots
of independent researchers. One of the ironies of the cuts that we’re
currently having around Australian agriculture at state agency level, CSIRO, universities,
is there’s actually more team work. One of the things I’ve noticed over the last five
years is that there’s a whole lot more collaboration between States and agencies. And it’s actually
had a good impact and I’ll give you an example of that good impact but it makes me angry
and upset that we didn’t do this a generation ago. Now if a farmer gets a soil test how does
he know it’s any good? Who does he trust? Who does he believe? One of the things that
we’ve developed recently is accreditation processes and why we didn’t do this a generation
ago just astounds me. But I was adopted by two senior researchers
who were outside New South Wales DPI when I first started. One was Doug Reuter from
CSIRO and he spent time in SARDI. The other was Ken Peverill from the Victorian Department
of Ag. Now everybody would have heard of Reuter and
Robinson the big plant nutrition bible. And Peverill et al was the soil testing bible.
Those two senior men had a vision for soil testing and soil fertility in Australia. They
wanted a chain of command or an accreditation procedure that took us all the way through
soil sampling in the paddock through to fertilizer advice. And they wanted accreditation procedures
and that’s now finally come to pass. So for example soil sampling is accredited
through Fertcare ® through Fertilizer Australia, the fertilizer industry. Soil testing (the
lab work) is now accredited through ASPAC the Australian (Australasian it is now) Soil
and Plant Analysis Council. Soil test interpretation is now managed through
the Better Fertiliser Decision database – that’s the Australian repository of soil test calibrations. The advice that people give – that’s now accredited
through Fertcare®. So that people are giving advice it has to be consistent with those
principles that are accredited by Fertcare®. And then finally fertilizer application – is
your fertilizer spreader accredited through Fertcare®? For example the bout width, the
quantity of material spread. All of that can be tested and accredited. So over the last 30 years we’ve gradually
got ourselves to the point where we can accredit the soil test – the soil sampling I should
say – the soil testing, the soil test calibration, the fertiliser advice that’s given, and how
it’s spread. So we’ve finally developed an industry where
the advice is traceable, defensible and more objective regardless of who gives you that
advice and I think it’s a wonderful irony of the downscaling of agricultural research
and advice in Australia that has given us the opportunity to provide national accreditation
procedures because those of us who are left have had a better degree of collaboration
and cooperation.