7 Dec 2017 – AGM and Ken Wetherby Pioneer Lecture

Each year, the SA Branch of Soil Science Australia honours an individual who has made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of soil science.  On Dec 7, we celebrated the contributions of Ken Wetherby with a lecture by Brian Hughes titled:

“Classifying calcareous soils, soil survey for horticultural development, understanding and mapping soil limitations! A short history of Ken’s work across regional SA and further.”

Ken has worked as a soil scientist in South Australia since 1967, when he moved from the U.S.A.  In this time he has developed methods for soil survey of horticultural crops, classification systems for carbonate and calcareous soils (which were incorporated into the Australian Soil Classification), undertaken various soil surveys and studies examining water repellent sand, wind erosion, soil salinity and soil fertility, and greatly increased understanding of stratigraphy of Mallee districts across southeast Australia.  He has delivered irrigation training programs throughout Australia, resulting in recognition from the Irrigation Association of Australia.  He was also instrumental in establishing the SA Government ‘Irrigated Crop Management Service’, which provided soil and irrigation investigations and advice to hundreds of SA irrigators to improve management practices.

Brian Hughes insightfully presented the key highlights of Ken Wetherby’s career – which are many and varied – as well as covering the wider and ongoing influence of his work.  It was great to be able to honour a true pioneer of soil science. The Pioneers  Lecture was preceded by the annual general meeting. An eventful 2017 year for the SA branch was summarized in both the president’s and treasurer’s reports.  Cam Grant also provided an overview of the recent highly successful Australia Soil Judging Competition.  After the lecture, a reception was held to toast on Ken Wetherby’s achievements, and to end the soil year in good spirits.

Many thanks to everyone who helped make the recent AGM and Pioneer Lecture a success.

Brian Hughes (L) and Ken Wetherby, Pioneer in Soil Science of 2017 (R)


16 Nov 2017 – The Adelaide Hills Soil Terroir Event

On Thursday 16 November, this field day and seminar event was held in the heart of the beautiful Adelaide Hills. Soil Science Australia members, as well as members of the viticulture and wine industry community learnt about and discussed the idea of terroir, in particular its soil aspect.

Terroir comprises the climate, topography and soil of a site or ‘place’, and also encompasses how that place is reflected in grape and wine characteristics and distinctiveness. This concept can potentially be used to value-add to Australian wine. The Adelaide Hills Wine Region is now a significant fine wine region, contributing strongly to the Australian economy.

During the field session we looked at excavated soil characterisation sites at Shaw & Smith vineyards near Balhannah and Lenswood. These are Red Chromosols forming in soft yellow siltstone. Grape varieties were shiraz and pinot noir at Balhannah and Lenswood, respectively. Land and soil nature, limitations and data interpretations were presented in a discussion led by SA Branch President James Hall. Murray Leake, chief viticulturist with Shaw & Smith, spoke about viticultural management at each site, especially inter-row and below row management.

The afternoon session was a seminar, where we were fortunate to have a range of expert speakers. Richard Hamilton of the Adelaide Hills Wine region association spoke about the Adelaide Hills Wine Region, in a talk titled ‘Viticulture with Altitude’ – the whole of the region lies above the 300 m contour.
Alex Clarke, a viticulturist with Shaw & Smith, followed with the talk ‘Importance of site selection for different grape varieties and their subsequent styles’, highlighting the cool-climate wine styles made from various parts of the Shaw & Smith vineyard areas.
Dr Rob Bramley, Senior Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO, then followed with a presentation about ‘Vineyard variability and terroir – making sense of place’, highlighting the within vineyard soil variability and the opportunities for wine making based on this. He argued that the real opportunity for terroir may lie in our ability to understand the impacts of soil and other biophysical variation on the characteristics of grapes and wine at within-vineyard scale (rather than at regional or subregional scale). Such understanding of ‘place’ should promote the implementation of management decisions in the vineyard to “enable us to grow the grapes we need in order to make the wines we want”.
Dr Joanna Gambetta of Charles Sturt University began the final session on “How does geographical origin impact Chardonnay grape composition”, where she spoke about recent research that demonstrated compositional and quality differences in chardonnay grapes from a range of wine regions. This research points to: that the differences at regional scale are most likely predominantly due to climatic differences.
James Hall spoke on the nature of geology, landscapes and soil in the Adelaide Hills, as well as on the world-class land & soil spatial datasets available in South Australia. These datasets are now accessible on the eb at the ‘Nature Maps’ site (https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/science/naturemaps). James stressed the need for vineyard/paddock soil investigations to properly understand crop-soil-water- management interactions, and to make best use of proximally and remotely sensed datasets. He also highlighted the potential opportunity at vineyard scale in wine production, as most vineyards comprise at least two distinct soil types or terroirs that could lead to the production of distinct wines.
Associate Professor Tim Cavagnaro, of the University of Adelaide School of Agriculture, Food & Wine, gave a talk on the role of soil biology in viticulture and illustrated the complex nature of soil communities, the importance of organism function, and the sorts of communities we would want. Tim highlighted work linking terroir to the soil microbiome in the Barossa Valley. He also made mention of the recently announced Wine Australia program initiative to understand and refine the expression of Australian Shiraz terroir.
The day was rounded off by a Q&A session facilitated by the SA Branch Vice President, Ed Scott.

Many thanks to all speakers and to our sponsors and supporters: Juliet Creek Consulting, Australian Precision Ag Laboratory (APAL), Adelaide Hills Wine, Shaw & Smith wine company, Peats Soil & Garden Supplies, and DJ’s Growers Services.

James Hall leading the discussion at the soil characterisation sites, with typical Adelaide Hills weather on display. (Photo: Ed Scott)


19 October 2017 – A night at the pub: Antarctica – a (soil) scientist’s dream

Ever dreamed about visiting Antarctica or doing research there? For all dreamers, a night at the pub was held at the Kings Head, where three speakers, Briony Ankor, Samantha Grover and Mark Stevens (biographies below), talked about their experiences in Antarctica, followed by a Q&A session moderated by Cameron Grant.

Briony Ankor is a PhD Candidate in geospatial sciences at the University of South Australia.  She received a Jane Gillooly Memorial Award to support her participation in the 2016 Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica, a leadership program for women in science.

Samantha Grover (Postdoctoral Fellow, La Trobe University) is a soil scientist whose research focuses on the cycling of organic matter, water and nutrients through soil, plants and the atmosphere, and the associated greenhouse gas fluxes. She is passionate about research that benefits society and also partipicated in the Homeward Bound expedition.

Mark Stevens (Senior Research Scientist, SA Museum and Assoc. Prof. UniSA) has research interests in the systematics and evolutionary relationships of Collembola, native bees and Antarctic terrestrial invertebrates. An important aspect to his work integrates molecular and systematics to understand biodiversity contrasted against climate/biome shifts.

            Yes, there is soil in Antarctica (0.32% ice-free land area)!

5-6 August 2017 – Science Alive!

The Science Alive! Event is an expo that lets people of all ages immerse themselves in the fun and excitement of learning about the world. This year, also the SA Branch of Soil Science Australia had a stall with several activities at this event.

The “Soil Art” activity, in which kids (or kids at heart) could paint with ochre, proved to be very popular. Also the inspection of a “good” and a “bad” soil under the microscope was met with fascination and enthusiasm. Furthermore, people could have a look at a Calcarosol monolith and soil sampling tools. The showstopper of our stall was the augmented reality (AR) sandbox, which Luke built himself. You can find some cool videos on YouTube showing an AR sandbox in action or, if you are a brave soul and want to make one yourself, head to this website for instructions.

Big thanks to the organizing committee (Luke Mosley, Erinne Stirling, Sjaan Davey, John Weber), especially Luke as the driving force behind this, for their splendid work in making this a successful event, and to all volunteers.

Erinne demonstrating the AR sandbox
Cam admiring Soil Art
Happy Volunteers
The AR sandbox in action

25 May 2017 – Prescott and Taylor Medal lectures

The two major national soil science awards for 2016 were awarded to South Australian based soil scientists.   So on May 25th at the Waite Campus, the SA Branch of Soil Science Australia had the honour of hosting the presentation event, where Dr Rai Kookana was presented with the JA Prescott Medal of Soil Science for an outstanding contribution to soil science, and Dr Jock Churchman was presented with the JK Taylor OBE Gold Medal in Soil Science for excellence in both research and its communication (primarily for the recently published eclectic book he edited with Edward Landa: ‘The Soil Underfoot’).  Both awardees gave a great presentation. After the event, the attendees gathered for food, drink, catching up with old and new friends, and networking in the foyer of the Plant Research Centre Auditorium.

Dr Jock Churchman (left), recipient of the 2016 Taylor Award and Dr Rai Kookana, recipient of the 2016 Prescott Medal

30 March 2017 – The Maarten Ryder Lecture by Gupta Vadakattu

Each year the South Australia Branch of Soil Science Australia honours someone who has made a significant contribution to soil science through the ‘Pioneers in Soil Science’ lecture.

On 30 March 2017, we celebrated the recipient of 2016 Pioneer Award, Dr Maarten Ryder, who has led research teams in soil biology, biological control and cultivation, and characterization of native Australian food plants. The invited guest speaker was Dr Gupta Vadakattu, whose presentation, entitled “Microbes and Molecules as magic bullets for plant disease control” highlighted various research topics in which Maarten Ryder’s research has greatly contributed. Gupta taught us about the “biocontrol wheel” and presented various examples of biocontrol, i.e. the use of biological agents to control plant diseases. Above all, we learned that biocontrol is not an easy task, given the many factors involved.


The lecture was followed by drinks and nibbles to celebrate Dr Ryder’s achievements and to catch up with each other. We thank Dr Gupta for delivering a great lecture and congratulate Dr Ryder! For those who could not attend or who want to refresh their mind, you can find the presentation here.

From left to right: Gupta Vadakattu (invited speaker), Maarten Ryder (Pioneer of 2016) and James Hall (SA Branch president)

NZASSS conference – a balancing act

Last December, the joint New Zealand and Australia Soil Science conference was held in Queenstown. A gorgeous location and a lots of people of different ages and backgrounds with a passion for soil. What more can you ask?

Four students (Olivia Cousins, Sanchita Mandal, Promil Mehra and Cameron Ollson) received financial support from Soil Science Australia to attend the conference. They represented our branch very well, and even won both student prices from Soil Science Australia. Olivia Cousins won the best poster award and Cameron Ollson the best speaker award. Below is a report provided by Olivia:

The joint New Zealand and Australia Soil Science Societies conference was a great place to start my conference journey. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my supervisors had armed me with a few nuggets of wisdom about how to glean information out of seminars, how to act, how to introduce myself to people. I was excited to be a participant in this conference and to see what I could learn. What made it even better was its stunning location; I was glad to have the chance to explore Queenstown in between conference meetings.

The conference started off with the welcome BBQ. It was a bit overwhelming, the venue quickly filling up with people, but within 10 minutes of arriving, I struck up a conversation with a fellow student from the University of Waikato. I had further opportunities to meet members of the New Zealand Soil Science Society, all of whom were very enthusiastic and interesting to talk to. This conference also gave me a chance to get to know some other members of staff from the University of Adelaide/CSIRO. Either through talk of science or general everyday life, I found myself becoming more familiar and comfortable with people.

Clockwise left to right: View from the airplane; Lake Wakatipu from the jetty; view of Lake Wakatipu while climbing Queenstown Hill (pictures by Olivia Cousins)

The NZASSS conference certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone, requiring me to interact with people from all stages of scientific career. It also encouraged me to become more comfortable in larger groups of people, and to not put myself down or compare myself to other people. I worked hard to get there, so I deserve to be there. I was thankful for the food breaks throughout the day, as they gave me a chance to catch up with a speaker and ask questions I wasn’t brave enough to ask in front of a seminar audience.

I loved listening to the many international speakers talk so enthusiastically about their research, both the highs and the lows. Seeing their passion for their work certainly helped to renew mine.  They have wisdom pertaining to subjects that I did not know existed. They had wisdom pertaining to questions I needed answering with my own research. NZASSS conference gave me a chance to formulate answers to my research questions. I may have not spoken to many people within my immediate subject area of drought/nitrogen stress, but I spoke to lots of people from other areas. Their insight into my research topic was invaluable and shed some new light onto it.

Winning best student poster prize was amazing, and made me feel more than capable of achieving what I set my mind to. Overall, the NZASSS conference  has been an enjoyable experience, filled with thought, clarity, questions, and discussions. It has given me renewed energy to pursue and investigate my research project further, and I am very much looking forward to the next Soil Science conference.

(Olivia Cousins)

Sanchita Mandal (left) and Olivia Cousins with their posters

8 Dec 2016 – AGM, Students Seminar and End-of-Year celebration

We celebrated the end of year as well as 60 years Soil Science Australia with a barbecue in front of the Lirra. The weather was not on our side, but it was a very joyful occasion anyway.

bbq2016 bbq2016b bbq2016c

Before the celebrations, we held our annual general meeting, and held a seminar with presentations of the students who received support to attend the NZASSS conference in Queenstown, who did a great job, both during this practice seminar and at the conference itself (see here).

Recipients of the student grants to attend the NZASSS conference. From left to right: Promil Mehra, Cameron Ollson, James Hall (vice-president), Olivia Cousins, Sanchita Mandal and Sean Mason (president)