I have twice been involved in international projects where I was responsible for having a soil and plant analysis laboratory service the needs of an international project in plant production. The first was in Nanning during the 1980s and the goal was to introduce eucalypt accessions to southern China for evaluation in forest plantation. In this instance the laboratory was purpose built and fitted out, and key staff were trained in Australia on the same instrumentation to be installed in the laboratory in Nanning, China. The current project is to increase vegetable production in the highlands of NW Vietnam and the Australian input is principally in training staff at an established laboratory in Hanoi.
Despite the contrasting ‘crops’ and funding models of the two projects, both laboratory components have many features in common. Most notably, the need to establish and strengthen concepts and practices of quality assurance and traceability. Eighteen months down the track a QA system is emerging: volumetric ware is calibrated regularly and the Kjeldahl N test has been validated and used to assess the homogeneity of one in-house-prepared reference soil and one reference plant sample. Portions of each of these samples have been circulated in proficiency rounds among ASPAC members in Australia, and the resulting inter-laboratory statistics are guiding ‘root cause’ investigations into systematic bias. Meanwhile, the results of replicate analysis of the same samples are being used to drive understanding of the concept of a method being “in control”. These efforts are strongly supported by laboratory management and I expect a positive outcome will persist long after the vegetable project is a distant memory.