Sydney Science Forum: Soils to Society - The unseen power beneath our feet

2 August 2011

Healthy soil is crucial for nutritional food production and the provision of vital micronutrients essential to human health. Discover how we are now placing greater and greater demands on this valuable resource and how topsoil is already being lost faster than it is being replaced in many parts of the world, when Professor John Crawford, from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Sydney, gives his free public talk.

"We're asking more from our soil than ever before: within the next 25 years we have to produce 50% more food using less land, less water and fewer inputs and producing less emissions, plus we have to achieve this faced with an uncertain future climate," said Professor Crawford.

"Our soil resource is not secure - almost half the world's agricultural soil is degraded - so it's absolutely essential for us to find new ways to look after our soil," explained Professor Crawford.

Soil fertility has been intrinsically linked to human civilisation since its dawn, and the failure to look after their soil has resulted in the downfall of great historical civilisations.

"Soil is the basis of human health and all great civilisations have been founded on good soil. In fact, living things have always interacted fundamentally with soil, from the earliest life forms like stromatolites, which build up structures with soil to reach the sunlight. Even when we search for life in space, we look in the soil!"

"It's not surprising that soil has always been so key to life - soil substrate provides an optimal mix of air and water together with nutrient cycling capabilities that supply the essential ingredients for sustaining life," said Professor Crawford.

"Soil does all these amazing things for us. It's the most complex and important ecosystem on Earth, that stores all the water we use, recycles dead material to provide a steady supply of nutrition that supports all terrestrial life, produces 95% of our food and even regulates the climate."

In his Sydney Science Forum talk, Professor Crawford will detail how humans rely on soil for food, water, energy, climate regulation and pollution management.

"Historically, populations have been able to move on from areas once the soil becomes degraded. Soil has the capacity to self-repair, but needs time to recover from our intensive use of it.

"However, with our current global use of soil where we're farming most of the available land, we can't just move on - we need to find a new way of looking after our soil," explained Professor Crawford.

"We are at a point globally, where more than ever before we need to understand how soil works. We can use science to understand soil and how best to accelerate the self-repair of soil. We also have to take into account the modern factors which compromise the self-repair of soil, such as high use of fertilisers and the loss of the organic material that provides the energy for the resident microbial activity that sustains the soil's physical and biological functioning."

Discover why Australia is well positioned to take the lead in this new era of soil management and how science can help us ask less of our soil.

The lecture will be followed by exciting interactive demonstrations and a cocktail reception showcasing local, sustainable and native Australian produce.

Professor John Crawford is an international leader in soil-plant-microbe system research and holds the Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Sydney. Before coming to Australia, Professor Crawford chaired the Agri-Food Committee, the main panel responsible for determining funding of sustainable agriculture, diet and nutrition research in the UK. He was invited to become a fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications in recognition for services to mathematics in 2003, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2007 in recognition of his contribution to science.

Sydney Science Forum: Soils to Society - The unseen power beneath our feet

Date:Wednesday 3 August 2011
Time: 5:45pm - 6:45pm
Location: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, University of Sydney
Cost: Free

Contact: Kristl Mauropoulos

Phone: 02 9351 3021

Email: 46090d4a080f2477335b392c383a4b3a5c021603012d0c1f60161c