Microscopic view of lucerne root.

Microscopic view of lucerne root.

Farming: roots and soil

CSIRO is studying plant roots and their association with soil and plant productivity to boost sustainable crop and pasture production.

  • 16 March 2007 | Updated 14 October 2011

Difficult soils such as those that are hard, or have high levels of sodium, boron, acidity, alkalinity or salinity, can constrain agricultural production despite good rainfall or the right soil nutrients.


Roots of perennial plants such as lucerne can act as 'drilling rigs' in difficult soils, and provide channels that following crops can use. CSIRO is evaluating the possibilities of using this technique to improve crop performance on difficult soils.

Interdisciplinary research in Western Australia (WA), New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland is focussed on understanding and improving the ability of roots to access water and nutrients.

Modelling and field experiments show that water and nutrients are often present but may drain from the system if not used by the roots.

New microscopy technologies are revealing how roots function in soil. We are developing crops with more efficient roots.

Soil microbes

In Western Australia, CSIRO is studying the role of helpful soil microbes, such as bacteria belonging to the Actinomycetes, which may promote plant growth and/or suppress root diseases.

CSIRO is also investigating how soil microbes called Bradyrhizobium help species such as acacias establish and survive more effectively. This will help to rehabilitate cleared and saline land.

The field trials are being done in collaboration with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Victoria and several Victorian catchment management authorities including:

  • Goulburn Broken
  • North Central
  • Mallee
  • Glenelg-Hopkins.

We are also studying the impact of provenance on revegetation. We are using molecular approaches to characterise the genetic structure of rhizobial populations across the geographic ranges of two acacias. Glasshouse trials are being used to quantify the average nitrogen-fixing effectiveness of these populations.

Conservation farming

In the sandplains of Western Australia (WA) and New South Wales (NSW), we are working to improve productivity with conservation farming systems. These systems conserve water and soil.

We are looking at how they affect soil microorganisms and crop yields, and identifying crops with fast-growing roots that are suited to untilled soil.

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