New soils coordinator set to start in WA after $23 million boost for drought hubs

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Camera IconWheat. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

The team and reach of a new hub delivering farmer-centred drought innovation and adoption practices out of the Wheatbelt has been bolstered following a Federal funding boon.

WA’s Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub will share in a $23 million funding boost, announced by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud on Monday.

The boost will be extended to the eight Hubs established across Australia through the Commonwealth’s $5 billion Future Drought Fund.

The lion’s share ($20 million) will be put towards expanding the focus of the hubs and providing regionally-specific solutions, while a separate $3 million has been allocated to hire Regional Soil Coordinators at each of them.

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The SW WA Hub, led by Grower Group Alliance, which represents a network of more than 60 grower groups representing about 4000 farm enterprises, will receive an extra $2.5 million over 18 months after the boost.

Its key ‘regional node’ location is at the Merredin Dryland Research Institute, and additional nodes will include Bunbury, Manjimup, Katanning, Albany, Esperance, Northam, Geraldton and Carnarvon.

Acting SW WA Hub director Mark Holland said it would enable the hub to expand from being solely drought-focused to cover agricultural innovation more broadly.

“It’s a fantastic affirmation of the potential of the Hub to deliver on-ground impact in the area of agricultural innovation, and to put in place regionally focused activities,” he said.

Mr Littleproud called the hubs a “game-changer” for regional Australia, enabling farmers to work with experts to come up with new solutions fit for their specific regions.

“We know that conditions in Australia are incredibly diverse,” Mr Littleproud said. “That’s why a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work for our farmers.

“Each hub has its own focus, and will be able to adapt to the climate, soil and conditions of each region.

“I encourage producers, researchers, investors, technology developers to work with hubs to drive innovation and digital technology uptake supporting our agricultural industry to modernise, improve and innovate.”

The new soil coordinators — who will work with Soil Science Australia to form a National Community of Practice — are set to provide “down to earth” practical assistance to improve soil health and testing.

“The soil coordinator’s role will be to provide networks for researchers, primary producers and community groups to work together to enhance drought-resilient practices,” Mr Holland said.

“They will also work with service providers to deliver more integrated and targeted soils services to communities, broker partnerships with industry and stakeholders to build capability, and to coordinate service delivery and share the latest soil science and tools.”

Mr Littleproud said the soil coordinators would give farmers and land managers the tools and information they needed to protect and improve soil, which he dubbed “the foundation of Australian agriculture”.

“It gives them access to the best soil science and tools available, so they can maximise this year’s returns and better plan for the future,” he said.

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