A well–managed landscape provides high quality, essential ecosystem services to farmers and the Australian community. These services include food and fibre, clean air, fresh water, and biodiversity protection. Good soil management is needed to improve the resilience of landscapes and to deliver high quality ecosystem services. Recognising these values, the Australian Government, through the Department of Agriculture, is investing in improving soil and land management through research, development and extension, improving soils management through on–ground activities and improved data and information collection.

The National Soil Research, Development and Extension Strategy

For the first time Australia has a national, coordinated and forward thinking approach to managing our soil. The National Soil Research, Development and Extension Strategy – Securing Australia’s soil for profitable industries and healthy landscapes (soil RD&E strategy) will ensure soil research becomes more targeted and collaborative and that research will better meet the needs of farmers, policy makers and other stakeholders. There will also be better information and tools available on soil use and management.

Stocktake of Australia’s investment in soil Research, Development and Extension

The Stocktake of Australia’s investment in soils research, development and extension – a snapshot for 2010–11, was released in December 2011 and was used to inform the development of the soil RD&E strategy. It identified that Australia spent around $124 million on soil RD&E. There are about 40 organisations undertaking soils RD&E, and at least 13 Australian government or related organisations provide funds for soils work.

Research Funding

The department's portfolio rural research and development corporationsprovided $24 million of the estimated $124 million spent on soils RD&E in Australia in 2010–11.

The Department of Agriculture's Soil Carbon Research Program is investigating soil carbon and its sequestration in Australia. The Filling the Research Gap and Action on the Groundprograms are providing support for research into, and implementation of, abatement technologies and management practices to improve soil carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the land sector whilst enhancing sustainable agricultural practices.

The Department also contributes to soil RD&E by sponsoring conferences including:

Improving soils data and information

The department's Sustainable Resource Management Division (SRM) contributes to the Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program (ACLEP), an initiative jointly funded by CSIRO to improve the collection, management and dissemination of nationally consistent data and information on soil and land resources.

The Stocktake of Australia’s investment in soils research, development and extension also 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  PDF [1 MB].

Improving soils management

The department supports a number of projects to improve farmers’ land management practices and encourage innovation in soil management by reducing soil loss through wind and water erosion, improving ground cover, reducing soil acidification risk and improving farm productivity and profitability.

Monitoring land management practices

On farm practice change is monitored through the biennial Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), which surveys 33 000 of Australia’s 135 000 agricultural businesses (farmers), and where available, the ABS’ 1995–96 and 2000–01 agricultural censuses (which surveyed all agricultural businesses). For more information about why land management practices are important and national and state/territory monitoring results, see monitoring land management practices.

Monitoring soil resource condition

Prepared by CSIRO in association with state/territory agencies, the recently released report “National Soil Condition Monitoring: Objectives, Design, Protocols, Governance and Reporting” provides recommendations on the objectives, design, protocols and suggested governance arrangements for long term (20 year) monitoring of changes in soil pH and soil carbon through time.

The department, through SRM and ABARES is working with state/territory agencies and CSIRO to develop a national capability to monitor ground cover in the rangelands to help improve the sustainability and productivity of the grazing industry. These projects will help us understand whether changing land management practices is helping to improve soil condition.