Lab tests new boundaries

AUSTRALIA'S busiest soil and plant analysis laboratory has officially opened in Bibra Lake.

The purpose-built, $6 million CSBP futurefarm laboratory has the highest throughput of any soil and plant analysis laboratory in the country - processing more than 1,200 soil or plant samples per day.

Laboratory manager Geof Proudfoot said staff morale had never been better since CSBP moved from its old Bayswater facility.

The new lab is about three times the size of the company's old Bayswater digs.

Even though the Bayswater facility was a converted office building, it had the highest throughput of soil samples in Australia at one time.

The new facility has 14 full-time staff handling the laboratory analysis which is beefed up to about 35 during the lab's busiest month - February.

The results of soil and plant analyses from WA farms are used in CSBP futurefarm's computerised decision programs that bring together biological responses from years of experimental work, with economics, to determine optimum fertiliser rates.

The new lab breaks even analysing soil and plant samples from WA. But its service is also used by agricultural consultants, mining companies, the CSIRO and universities and departments of agriculture from around Australia.

Even winemaker BRL Hardy sends its soil and plant samples there.

Wesfarmers chairman Harry Perkins said technology was the only thing that was keeping Australian farmers going.

"Produce prices are still what they were in the 1970s, while farm costs are running at today's prices," Mr Perkins said.

"The 1960s were a wonderful time for farmers.

"It was production unlimited but in hindsight, some bad decisions were made.

"The drought of the 1970s made us into proper farmers. With the technology we have today we can take a market garden approach to farms and look at square metres of soil rather than whole paddocks."

Wesfarmers CSBP managing director Peter Knowles said the company had pioneered commercial soil testing in 1971.

"In the early days CSBP focused on fertiliser development and distribution," Mr Knowles said.

"This year we'll probably sell the same tonnage of fertiliser we sold in 1990-91, which we'll distribute with half the number of people and from less production plants.

"Our profit from fertiliser will be 10 per cent less than we had in 1990-91."

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