Healthy soil, healthy food

Soil is responsible for 95 per cent 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, and recognised nationally with the release of the National Soil Strategy in May by the Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud.

With more than $200 million of government funds committed towards implementation actions over the next four years, it represents one of the largest 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.

Funding includes new incentives for farmers to increase soil testing on the condition they feed this information pack into the National Soil Monitoring and Incentives program.

The aim is to help governments, researchers and other users of soil data to deliver targeted products and services to farmers to improve their drought resilience.

There is also funding to support new food and organic waste initiatives and divert waste going into landfill.

The objective is to deliver cost effective, high quality organic matter to farms to help improve productivity and find a valuable use for this untapped resource, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The National Soil Strategy is also providing a set of goals around which farmers, industry, researchers and governments can coalesce to ensure that investment and delivery is targeted and effectively and efficiently directed.

Read the National Soil Strategy here.

RASH manual and soil videos are a step-by-step guide

Soil Land Food principal David Hardwick during a soil workshop.

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

Soil health has been a cornerstone of the LDC’s Grazier Support program. Revisit our soil health video series presented by soil expert David Hardwick.

NQ Dry Tropics has packaged a soil health tool kit for graziers – A Rapid Assessment of Soil Health (RASH) manual written by well known agriculture ecologist David Hardwick, along with a series of short videos that demonstrate how to carry out the various soil tests. 

RASH is a tool to help you assess your soil’s health and some of its key properties. The RASH manual and RASH scorecard, which is located at the end of the manual, can help you carry out objective assessments of soil health indicators.

This information guides you in making targeted management decisions to plan and implement systems of soil health management practices to alleviate identified constraints and maintain healthier soils.  

Download the RASH manual here and access the series of short soil health videos, presented by David Hardwick here.


Reef regulations - grazing, standard conditions

  1. For land in good or fair condition (more than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), continue using measures to maintain land condition.
  2. For land in poor condition (less than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition.
  3. For land in degraded condition (less than 20 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition OR prevent areas from further degrading or expanding.
  4. Keep records of measures taken and also of agricultural chemicals, fertiliser and mill mud or mill ash applied to land.
KEQ #8

KEQ #7
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KEQ #4

The LDC project monitors four gully sites (represented in this table) with gold standard equipment and analysis, carried out by CSIRO.

Results have been compiled in a preliminary report from Bartley et al (2020), with the final report expected to be released by the end of 2020. The preliminary report shows all four sites have indicators of improvements, notably the Strathbogie and Mt Wickham sites.

KEQ #3

*The Exploring New Incentives activity area has provided an opportunity for graziers to adopt improved land management practices through a range of activities. For some of these properties, it was the first time they signed contracts for on-ground works.

KEQ #1

Figure 1. Total fine sediment reduction by project type and erosion source. Inset shows the proportion of the total project area for each project type.

These estimates have been calculated using two methods: 

1) The pollutant reduction component of the Alluvium/Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) investment tool for hillslope and streambank erosion management projects; 

2) The Reef Trust Gully Toolbox method for gully erosion management projects. The LDC Water Quality Report 2020 (Waterhouse et al., 2020) highlights that a number of assumptions underlay these calculations, therefore these figures should be treated as the best available estimate of sediment reductions to date.

Preventing sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef

Each wet season sediment is washed into local waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). 

Most sediment is very fine, and can stay suspended for a long time and can travel great distances. Valuable topsoil is lost from production, and increased concentrations on the reef can be harmful to seagrasses and corals. 

Landholders in the BBB have completed 69 on-ground water quality practice changes, and it is estimated that these have contributed a fine sediment reduction of 6,154 tonnes per year from reaching the GBR. 

Of this, approximately half of the sediment savings are attributable to grazing land management changes on hillslopes and streambanks, and the other half as a result of gully remediation treatments across a broad range of scales, as shown in the graphs above. 

The table below also highlights the relatively small area of intervention in the gully management projects compared to the large sediment savings that these can achieve - 60 per cent of the sediment savings over only 4 per cent of the project area.

Table 1. Estimated sediment reductions (tonnes) from projects completed in the LDC Project to date.

KEQ #2

*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

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