Digging in: Tackling Australia’s soil challenge

It’s fairly well known that by world standards, Australia’s soil is old, infertile and we don’t have a lot of it. This presents a range of challenges to farmers and land managers going into the future.

However, Australia is also great at making the best of what we do have, using farming innovation and best practice land management to care for our ancient land.

Ameliorating acid soils with lime – 91.44 cm offset disc plough used to incorporate lime into acid soils. Source: Project SGR1-0504, 2017.

The Australian Government invests in a range of programs to help farmers build profitability, better manage for climate variability, and contribute to improved soil quality. Some examples of this investment include:

  • Smart Farms Program – $134 million over the next six years will be invested to develop innovative approaches to protecting Australia’s on farm soil, water, vegetation and biodiversity resources.
  • Regional Land Partnerships – $450 million investment will continue the legacy of Landcare by concentrating on projects that improve the health of soils on farms.
  • Soil research – the Rural Research and Development for Profit Program is investing around $23.5 million in projects aimed at improving soil management.

In 2017, the Australian Government established a Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soil with an initial investment of $39.5 million over 10 years to help bridge the gap between soil science and farm management. With 39 participants that have contributed further cash or in-kind contributions of at least $120 million, the Soil CRC is the biggest collaborative soil research effort in Australia’s history.

The Soil CRC coordinates multi-disciplinary research across a range of areas including social science, economics, biology, chemistry, agronomy and soil science. Further information on this collaborative research effort can be found at www.soilcrc.com.au.

The Australian Government also appointed Major General the Hon Michael Jeffery as a national Advocate for Soil Health (2012 – 2017) to provide strong leadership and advocacy on the importance of healthy soil, water and vegetation, and the underlying benefits for all Australians. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is coordinating the Australian Government response to his final report, handed to the Prime Minister in December 2017.

Stay tuned in the soil space because Soil Science Australia is hosting the 2018 National Soils Conference, in Canberra from 18-23 November 2018. The conference will address some of the key challenges for sustainable soil management, exploring lessons from the past, reflecting on the present and developing concrete plans and goals for the future. More information, including how to register or submit an abstract, can be found at www.soilscienceconference.org.au.

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