Outback Samplers: Braving the Outback, One Core at A Time

Liam Heinzel, Founder of Grounded Coring, an all-terrain precision soil sampling service has been supporting FarmLab with its largest ever soil sampling expeditions across the Australian outback. The sampling data collected is going towards critical research projects, which FarmLab is leading as part of the Federal Government’s National Soil Carbon Innovation Challenge program. These include, ‘The Kick the $3 Goal’ with the University of Tasmania, and Perennial; and the University of Queensland’s research project, supported by Ziltek, AgriCircle and the University of Aberdeen. Each project is designed to advance carbon measurement technologies and reduce the cost of baselining a farm’s soil carbon to the national target of $3 per hectare.

Liam shares his experience traversing Australia’s rugged landscape in pursuit of a greater purpose – building our nation’s collective knowledge of soil carbon to enable farmers to cost-effectively measure their environmental footprint, and actively partake in emissions reduction goals. Liam’s road trip instantly communicates the grit, expertise, and adventurous spirit of someone who’s not afraid to dig deep – literally and metaphorically – to get the coring job done.

Growing up on a cattle farm in Eugowra, central west New South Wales, instilled in me a deep appreciation for sustainability – a value that paved the way for my foray into soil health and carbon measurement.

Established in August 2023, Grounded Coring is a venture dedicated to providing comprehensive soil sampling services. The soil sampling rig – sturdy and well-used – can reach depths of up to 1.30 metres and is equipped with a versatile percussion instrument. I carry extra ERF compliant coring tools to ensure consistent core diameters & accurate coring in all conditions. It’s important to know the limitations of your equipment to maintain reliability and repeatability.

Our expedition with FarmLab took us to the far reaches of the Australian outback, from the heart of Queensland to the rugged landscapes of Northern Territory, and down through the centre, covering over 10,000 kilometres in three weeks, from 29 October to 4 November 2023. The objective was clear: to demonstrate our professionalism, logistical prowess, and equipment reliability in servicing remote areas.

But more importantly, to help build the nation’s understanding of its soil carbon profile to support farmers.

The experience was more than just a road trip; it was an opportunity to pressure test our capabilities while collaborating with industry partners, and improving our sampling processes. Coordinating with FarmLab, we sampled 10 farms, laying the groundwork for potential carbon projects and offering valuable insights into soil health as part of the National Soil Carbon Innovation Challenge.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this project has been engaging with farmers and witnessing their curiosity about the impact of carbon on their land. With soil sampling costs covered by FarmLab, we’ve been able to provide farmers with a gateway to better understand the benefits of good soil health, and increased carbon, particularly in terms of water retention and overall landscape function.

As a one-person operation, the challenges of navigating the outback were real, from fending off wildlife to addressing the remoteness of certain areas. FarmLab’s remote logistical support was coordinated very well, coupled with my family, mentors, and the ability to connect with farmers along the way made the adventure into the far west, both feasible and fulfilling.

Looking ahead, our commitment to soil testing continues with plans for future trips supporting FarmLab to the Northern Territory, Queensland, and coastal New South Wales. These will not only fulfil the technical aspects of our work but also allow for meaningful conversations with farmers.

As a fourth-generation cattle farmer, I’m lucky I have been able to develop invaluable skills for outback coring. From mechanical knowledge fixing issues on the road, through to understanding biosecurity threats which pose great risks to farmers. 

Knowing how to communicate with farmers and understanding their practices is instrumental in establishing positive relationships which is vital for future interactions. I take pride in being able to safely deliver satisfactory work with farmers while following rigorous sampling processes.

There aren’t that many direct career pathways, like TAFE or university to become a soil sampler, but with the increased need I believe there will be more institutionalised ways, as there’s a real shortage of soil samplers. While we’re running one soil sampling rig at the moment, the demand is growing quickly, so we’ll definitely look to expand with a second rig, and train up more staff to continue to deliver accurate and reliable sampling.  

In essence, this odyssey was more than just collecting samples though; it was a collaborative effort to contribute to the growing importance of carbon measurement technology. With each farm visited, we hope we’ve added to the collective knowledge that will help shape the future of sustainable farming practices, the role of carbon in agriculture, its many benefits and the future market possibilities.

Inspired by Liams’ story? Are you a soil sampler who wants to work with FarmLab?
Contact support@getfarmlab.com to join our ecosystem and access sampling jobs near you.

Scroll to Top