Soil Strategy a boost for soil health

| Posted Jun 03,2021

By Michael Crawford, CEO, Soil CRC

The recently released National Soil Strategy provides a rallying call for all Australians with an interest in the management of one of our greatest resources – our soil.

Soil is responsible for 95% of the food we eat and is ultimately responsible for much of the economic, environmental and social benefits that we enjoy. Its sustainable management is critical for our future.

The release of the National Soil Strategy in early May by the Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, was the culmination of many months of consultation with stakeholders across the country, including the Soil CRC and many of its 40 participant organisations.

With more than $200 million of government funds committed towards implementation actions over the next four years, it also represents one of the greatest investments in soil related outcomes for many years.

The Strategy has three main goals: to prioritise soil health, to empower soil innovation and stewardship, and to strengthen soil knowledge and capability. The activities of the Soil CRC aligns strongly with these goals, meaning that the success of the Soil CRC will contribute significantly to the successful implementation of the Strategy.

A centrepiece of the Strategy’s Interim Action Plan is $102 million over two years to pilot a Soil Monitoring and Incentives Program. This funding will allow for the purchase and capture of historical soil date from farmers and for a rebate program for farmers to undertake soil testing in exchange for sharing their data.

Bringing this publicly-funded data together into a centralised soil information system, building upon the work of the Soil CRC’s Visualising Australasia’s Soils project and other similar initiatives, will help researchers and advisors to gain insights into the benefits of various soil management approaches in a way not possible through normal field trials. In turn, this will give farmers more confidence in the soil health outcomes of various innovative practices.

The Action Plan recognises that there are many knowledge gaps with respect to how to best manage our soils for environmental and productivity outcomes. The Australian Government has allocated $20.9 million over four years to support research to address priority gaps in fundamental soil-related sciences to solve wicked problems and deliver benefits to industry, farmers and other land managers.

The Soil CRC is already working closely with farmers and farmer groups in undertaking research into priority issues such as practices for building soil organic matter and sequestering soil carbon, and techniques and amendments to address soil constraints. For every trial that the Soil CRC establishes in conjunction with farmer groups, there are another five that it could establish if resources would allow it. There is a strong  demand for more research targeted towards farmer needs.

The opportunity for improving soil health by recycling organic food and garden waste onto farms is also recognised. Funding of $67 million has been allocated to establish the Food Waste for Healthy Soils Fund, to help fund infrastructure to increase the quantity and quality of compost available to farmers for soil improvement. To ensure this is successful, further research will be needed, building upon current Soil CRC research in this area, to ensure that the compost application is agronomically and economically effective, and that undesirable contaminants are being managed.

In addition to the welcome funding from the Australian Government, what the National Soil Strategy provides is a set of goals and objectives around which farmers, industry, researchers and governments can coalesce to ensure that investment and delivery is targeted and effectively and efficiently directed.

The Soil CRC is an important contributor to this activity, and it is well placed to help deliver on many of the objectives of the Strategy to ensure our soils are managed sustainably and productively for many years to come.

Read the National Soil Strategy.

Listen to Soil CRC Program Leader Richard Doyle on ABC Country Hour.

Read an overview of the Strategy from Vanessa Wong and Luke Mosely from Soil Science Australia.