Soils

2015 is the International Year of Soils and World Soil Day falls on 5 December 2015. The department is supporting this important year through a range of activities including research, education and information sharing.

Our soils are important

Soil plays a vital role in primary production, carbon and water cycles, and biodiversity. The Australian Government, through the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, is driving initiatives and supporting others that ensure Australians have the tools they need to improve soil management, build farm productivity, and improve the quality of ecosystem services delivered to the broader community.

The Australian Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper outlines clear, farmer-oriented priorities to target rural research, development and extension (RD&E) funding. The new RD&E priorities include soil, water and managing natural resources, to:

  • manage soil health
  • improve water use efficiency and certainty of supply
  • sustainably develop new production areas, and
  • improve resilience to climate events and impacts.

For more information on what the Australian Government is delivering for soil, read chapter four of the White Paper, Farming Smarter

The department is supporting the International Year of Soils

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Investing in soils management

The department supports a number of projects to improve farmers’ land management practices and encourage innovation in soil management, including by reducing soil loss through wind and water erosion, improving ground cover and reducing soil acidification.
The Australian Government National Landcare Programme (NLP) is investing $1 billion over four years to help drive sustainable agriculture and to support the protection, conservation and rehabilitation of our natural environment. This builds on our previous investments in natural resource management, including more than $750 million provided during 2008–14 to improve on-farm soil and biodiversity management practices on farms across Australia. Funding includes:

The Carbon Farming Futures programme delivers research, on-farm trials and communication activities that support on-farm emissions reduction.

  • Through the Filling the Research Gap programme, a sub-programme of the Carbon Farming Futures programme, $17 million is being invested in soil carbon projects. These projects are examining a wide range of alternative methods for increasing soil carbon and are investigating measuring and monitoring techniques for carbon in Australian soils to deliver practical strategies for farmers to increase soil carbon.
  • The Department is contributing $53.36 million to the Australian Government Reef Programme, principally for Water Quality Grants to provide incentives for sugar cane growers and beef producers to improve land management practices to reduce sediment, nutrients and pesticides lost to the reef lagoon. The Department has published a report to inform discussion of funding priorities for the current Reef Water Quality Protection Plan PDF Icon PDF [5.8 MB].

The department's portfolio rural research and development corporations (RDCs) provided $24 million of the estimated $124 million spent on soils RD&E in Australia in 2010–11. The RDCs are also researching a number of management practices to provide advice to farmers on improving soil management.  These include:

The department is also investing in soil education, awareness and research through:

  • sponsoring the publication of Soil Science in Australia International Year of Soils edition to celebrate and promote wise management of the Australian soil resource
  • funding a $1.5 million CSIRO project to partner with farming groups and others to provide practical advice to farmers on ways to use soil to reduce input costs and improve production in their cropping paddocks
  • sponsoring the National Student Soil judging competition held at the Western Australian Celebrating Soils conference (September 2015)
  • sponsoring a workshop on Digital Soil Mapping to introduce new techniques for soil mapping
  • sponsoring student travel to the International Conference on Aeolian (wind) Research in 2016, which will be held in Mildura
  • supporting the National Advocate for Soil Health, Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery. General Jeffery is reporting to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources during the 2015 International Year of Soils, outlining recommendations for the future direction of soil management and policy.

Improving soils data and information

Farmers, scientists and policy makers need access to the best available information and tools for soil management. This access helps support the long-term viability and productivity of farm businesses, and can provide positive environmental outcomes.

  • The Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program is jointly funded by the department and CSIRO, in collaboration with state and territory agencies, to improve the availability of national soil information. Current projects include digitally capturing legacy soil data and the development of a demonstration virtual soil archive recommended by the Soil RD&E strategy. This work is the basis of an international interoperability trial led by CSIRO through the Open Geospatial Consortium agriculture domain working group. Other participants include New Zealand, the United States, Canada and the World Soil Information Centre.
  • A stocktake of Australia’s investment in soils RD&E PDF Icon PDF [1.0 MB] looked at the information currently available on soils in Australia. Appendix 5 of the Stocktake—the National soil information base—provides an overview of soils mapping, information about soil profile data and a soils archive.

Monitoring land management practices and soil condition

Adopting innovative farm practices will be the key to maintaining Australia’s competitiveness in international agricultural markets. These practices include: reducing soil loss through wind and water erosion; increasing soil health by reducing acidification and improving carbon content.

  • On-farm practice change is monitored through the biennial Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Agricultural Resource Management Survey. For more information about why land management practices are important and national and state/territory monitoring results, visit monitoring land management practices. To track trends in practice change see data at www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/monitor.
  • Ground Cover Monitoring for Australia tracks improvements in soil condition nationally through remote sensing of ground cover and dust monitoring. The department is funding development by CSIRO of a nationally-agreed, reliable basis for reporting trends in ground cover using satellite imagery. The work has contributed to improved estimates of soil losses to the Great Barrier Reef from water erosion, and the data help monitor wind erosion via Commu​nity DustWatch​. Research is underway to develop a tool to provide early warning of deteriorating pasture conditions for use by farmers, and by natural resource management organisations for reporting against ground cover targets, and nationally in developing policy responses to drought.

Research, Development and Extension

Australia now has a national, coordinated approach to managing our soil. The Australian Government developed the National Soil RD&E Strategy, Securing Australia’s soil for profitable industries and healthy landscapes in partnership with state and territory governments and research agencies. The Strategy will ensure soil research is better targeted and more collaborative, and meets the needs of farmers, policy makers and other stakeholders. CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation are leading the implementation of this strategy.

The strategy aims to:

    • improve co-investment to generate and apply new soil knowledge
    • improve the quality, availability and access to soil data and information
    • improve the communication and exchange of soil knowledge
    • adopt a national approach to building future skills and capacity, and
    • collaborate on the use of physical infrastructure for soil research.

The National Implementation Committee published soil RD&E priorities in July 2015.