When this year’s Federal Budget was handed down in May, one of the announcements that attracted attention was the allocation of $200 million over four years for a National Soil Strategy. The Strategy establishes a framework for how our nation will value, manage and improve its soil for the next 20 years, setting out three main goals around prioritising soil health, encouraging innovation and stewardship and strengthening soil knowledge and capability.
The importance of this emphasis on the nation’s soils cannot be underestimated and comes at a critical time for Australian agriculture. As a member of the board of the Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soils (Soil CRC) for a number of years, I know how much can be achieved through this funding announcement and how much we stand to gain as an industry and as a nation.
Soil CRC brings together scientists, industry and farmers to find practical solutions for improving Australia’s soils, in recognition of the fact that underperforming agricultural soils cost Australian farmers billions of dollars in lost revenue each year. The largest collaborative soil research effort in Australia’s history, Soil CRC is assisting farmers to increase their productivity and profitability by providing them with knowledge and tools to improve the performance of one of their most valuable assets, their soils.
The National Farmers Federation’s Roadmap 2030 outlines a way for the nation’s agriculture industry to exceed $100 billion in farm gate output by that time and initiatives like the National Soil Strategy will be key to helping achieve this. Soil is where it all begins and it’s gratifying to see the Federal Government give it, and the farmers who are charged with the responsibility of managing our prime productive land, the recognition their commitment and effort deserves.
A soil monitoring and incentives program is to be trialled to improve understanding of the state of Australia’s soils and provide payments to farmers and land managers to carry out soil testing and capture soil data for the benefit of the program’s information bank, and for their own use on-farm.
The potential of this strategy is enormous, as healthy and productive soils not only provide productivity benefits for individual farm businesses, but also help ensure the long-term sustainability of regional communities, our national economy and our environment. The role of healthy soils in helping combat the devastating impacts of natural disasters like bushfires, floods and drought is also well known. As the effects of climate change become more evident, the resilience and productivity of our soils will become increasingly critical.
This is an exciting opportunity which we hope delivers maximum benefits for our agriculture sector, government agencies and farmers in terms of data resources and improved profitability and sustainability. As the strategy is rolled out, we must ensure there’s opportunities for regular consultation with, and input from, stakeholders so the program can adapt, grow and improve in line with the needs and expectations of all involved, and fulfil the enormous promise it presents.
This article appeared in The Land on July 1 and can be viewed at: https://www.theland.com.au/story/7323127/healthy-soil-is-where-it-all-begins/