Bruce Alchin, Instructor, UQ Skills. Email:


A 12-month, Commonwealth Government-funded soils training course for graziers and farmers from the tropical north to the arid centre in the Northern Territory was a great success for teachers and students alike. The course attracted participants involved in enterprises from pastoral rangelands to intensive horticulture, with consultants as well as researchers from Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Northern Territory Government enrolled in the course.

Classes and field studies were held in four separate time blocks at Darwin, Katherine, and Alice Springs, with field work on properties and conservation areas, such as Alice Springs Desert Park, and further student engagement was conducted through Zoom, online and phone meetings. The course covered a wide breadth of topics, ranging from foundational soil science, applied soil management, soil physics and chemistry, and much more, and was initiated by Northern Territory Natural Resource Management (NTNRM), and courses presented by the University of Queensland (UQ) Skills staff. Throughout the 12-month course, which integrated three existing UQ soil subjects, students gathered samples and conducted field and laboratory assessments of biological activity.

The course’s focus on soil ecosystems and health provided a practical focus for students to hone their skills. Some of these practical applications included the visiting and assessment of soil pits, which were used at representative sites to assess soil profile characteristics and properties. Soil samples from participant’s properties were also analysed by APAL laboratories for detailed soil chemistry data, and students were also engaged in the interpretation and application of the soils data. Soil constraints were identified by participants and amelioration practices identified – plans were then developed to address the appropriate soil management practices.

The interactions between course presenters and students was found to be highly valuable in developing comprehensive discussions on the practical application of the theory of soils data and information. Students found great value from the networking they were able to develop with their peers, resulting in a continuing contact between students, initially online through the NTNRM, who are keen to continue sharing and discussing ideas, following the course’s completion. Some of the students who enrolled in formal studies completed the course assessment, with a number considering continuing their studies in agriculture courses at UQ.


Some of the staff and students at The Desert Park, Alice Springs


Another useful outcome from the course was the awareness of the limitations on detailed information on soils in the Northern Territory, particularly in relation to primary production. Although Government departments, CDU, and private consultants have collated significant soils information and data, there is still a need for further soil surveys, research, and extension. Discussions on the importance of organic matter has opened avenues for further consideration into cropping and horticulture enterprises research moving forward.

Territory Natural Resource Management (TNRM) has released that goes into more detail on the soils course (

We’d like to acknowledge the TNRM and UQ Skills staff involved in making this course a success. From NTNRM: Emily Hinds, Sara Bugno, Jack Farthing and Kimberley Pitt. From UQ Skills: Bruce Alchin, Guta Bedane and Doug George.