Australian Research Council opens ‘smart’ fertiliser research hub

26 October 2022 | Muriel Cozier

The hub will help the Australian food and agribusiness sector grow to its 2030 target value of A$100 billion.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has officially launched the ARC Hub for Innovative Nitrogen Fertilisers and Inhibitors (Research Hub for Smart Fertilisers). With total funding of A$11.35 million, including A$5 million over five years from ARC, an Australian Government body, the Hub will focus on developing the next generation of ‘smart’ fertilisers to support sustainable agricultural intensification, and the health of soils.

Established at the University of Melbourne, Australia, within the School of Agriculture and Food, researchers will apply plant and soil science, chemistry and chemical engineering to develop new biochemical inhibitors and ‘smart’ fertilisers that respond to rhizosphere signals to minimise nitrogen losses.

These innovations could increase the efficiency of nitrogen use by up to 20%. It is estimated that more than 50% of nitrogen fertiliser can be lost to the environment, particularly through volatilisation and denitrification. With this in mind the Hub will also develop evidence-based estimates of environmental and health costs of nitrogen losses and the social benefits of new fertilisers to inform government policy, industry and the community.

As well as academics, the Hub is supported by partners including fertiliser producers Incitec Pivot Fertilisers, which provided A$3.8 million in funding, and Elders Rural Services Australia, an agribusiness company, which has provided A$500,000 in funding.

Professor Deli Chen, Hub Director and leader of the Soil and Environment Research Group at the University of Melbourne said: ‘The ultimate goal is the creation of feedback responses within the outer shell of smart fertilisers that will trigger nitrogen release and inhibit microbial processes that induce nitrogen losses by drawing from knowledge and capability from across the entire value chain, from product design through to validation and adoption.’

The ARC has provided significant funding for increasing and improving crops and plants. During August ARC launched the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture, with A$35 million in funding. It is said that the centre will establish Australia as a global leader in evolutionary systems biology.

On Thursday 1 December SCI’s Agriscience Group will be hosting an event looking at Plant derived biostimulants for crop growth and protection, which will be held at SCI’s headquarters in London. Speakers from industry and academia will be sharing their perspectives.

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