Sharing information on innovative leading performance in managing Australia’s natural environment to encourage the wide adoption of regenerative landscape management techniques by our farmers and land managers - and why this is essential.

Spreading the word on soil health

Thursday, May 23, 2013



Michael JefferyMike GrundyDavid Marsh

Yesterday, in partnership with the National Landcare Facilitator, we hosted Part 1 of our three part webinar series on Regenerating Australia’s Soils. Our presenters were The Hon. Michael Jeffery, Mike Grundy and David Marsh. We were delighted to have over 550 primary producers, NRM Group/CMA reps, consultants, Landcare members and Government reps registered to take part.

The webinar was hosted by National Landcare Facilitator, Brett DeHayr and Soils for Life Program Coordinator, Simon Gould. You can view the whole webinar here.

Happily, the webinar ran smoothly, aside from a few technical glitches, but we seemed to get them sorted out alright. The challenge of using such technology across the country with varying internet service! Thanks to those affected for persisting. We had around 250 tune-in live, of which approximately:
- 32% were from QLD
- 27% NSW
- 17% VIC
- 9% WA
- 7% SA
- 5% TAS
- 2% NT
- less than 1% ACT

Approximately 63% of participants indicated that they were already involved in groups dealing with soil health issues and/or taking active steps on their property. 29% were interested in learning more in order to take active steps to improve soil health and 8% were just generally curious about soil health issues.

Presenter Key Points

THE HONOURABLE MICHAEL JEFFERY - Former Governor General and the Advocate for Soil Health

  • The world has to almost double food production by 2050
    - when we are losing agricultural land at a rate of around 1% per year, waterways are polluted, input costs are increasing and soil health is degrading.
  • In Australia, around 60% of our landmass is used for agriculture, much of it is degraded to some extent.
  • Around 1 million kilometres of our rivers and streams are incised, damaged or degraded in some form.
  • We need a national understanding regarding regenerating and managing our landscape so it is fit for purpose.
  • To do this we need to recognise the importance of the integrated management of soil, water and biodiversity of vegetative cover.
  • Look to those who have made the decision to actively manage their landscapes – soil, water and vegetation – and their production line and are doing this successfully.
  • Need to be sure that we’re teaching the right things to our NRM organisations/CMAs, farmers and land managers, asking the right questions of science and distributing the knowledge appropriately.

MIKE GRUNDY – leading CSIRO’s research into observing and understanding trends in Australian landscapes

image of Australian map showing soil differences
  • Soil performs a range of services, some obvious, some hidden. These include:
    - producing biomass and food, store and provide water and nutrients, filter pollutants, store and cycle carbon, provide habitat…
  • Soils are diverse, with many types and capacities, hence soil health means different things in different places.
  • Soils change over time. Resistance and resilience vary, but can be improved. However soils have thresholds, complete regeneration may not always be possible.
  • Soils are part of the environment – the climate and vegetation shape the soil and its properties as much as the rock it forms on and the management it has endured.
  • Soils are both living and non-living – both aspects are important.
  • Key threats to soil health are acidification, erosion, physical condition, nutrient status and soil biology (refer to the State of the Environment 2011 Report for maps and data)
  • Know your soils. Healthy soils will result where the management matches the function.
  • Improved soil health will result in:
    - less degrading land – and less leakage into the environment
    - higher levels of productivity – efficiency in water, nutrients, energy
    - unique habitats – soil-vegetation-fauna survive and thrive.


DAVID MARSH - grazier from near Boorowa in NSW, former board member of the Lachlan CMA, Landcare member.

image of degraded landscape
  • Soil part of the national capital; you cant keep drawing on the credit – you need to invest something back.
  • Previous grazing and land management practices were degrading the landscape, soil was not retaining moisture and pastures were struggling. Productivity was not increasing as expected.
  • Acknowledging that personal decisions were contributing to the situation was a powerful catalyst for change in 1982 (see image right)
  • How we make decisions determines how landscape look (see image lower right)
  • Undertaking a Holistic Management course and applying planned grazing provided the tools to look after the landscape
  • Planned grazing techniques allowed plant succession, from weeds to a community of grasses, including natural re-establishment of many native perennial species
  • image of same landscape much improved
  • Increased green-leaf growth due to recovery periods better harnesses sunlight energy
  • More fungi appeared – these are an important agent in recycling plant material as they can draw Phosphorus out of the soil bank and communicate it directly to plants
  • Ground cover has been retained even through drought, tree cover has increased, bird species have increased
  • Livestock is better matched to carrying capacity and there is no additional feed provided


Q & A

During the webinar we asked a couple of multiple choice poll questions (participants could select more that one answer). It was positive to see that many wanted more tools and information that they could use themselves to manage their soil health, and that soil biology is the primary area of interest.

graph of poll results
graph of poll results

Thanks to everyone who asked the variety of questions at the end of the webinar. Participant questions ranged from scientific explanations from Mike on whether soil degradation experienced in some areas reflected general problems in Australia to specific questions of David regarding how he determines his stocking rate.

We’re collating the questions and answers at the moment and will make them available on the Soils for Life website shortly.

Tune in next time...

Soils for Life is exploring a wide range of options are to help encourage our farmers and land managers to look after their soil health and adopt regenerative landscape management practices. Bringing information to you via our Demonstration and Field Days is a popular avenue, but it is fantastic to be able to reach such numbers from across the country through online technology.

Due to the somewhat rushed feeling we experienced with our first webinar, we will be focussing on just two speakers in subsequent weeks. This will ensure that we have more time for individual presentations and on-air Q&A.

Next week’s presenters are:

  • Colin Seis, grazier and cropping from Gulgong in NSW. Col is the leader in ‘Pasture Cropping’ and his techniques are being trialled more widely in Australia and overseas.
  • Shane Joyce, grazier from the Brigalow Belt outside of Theodore in Central Queensland.

As a result, we now wont be having Graeme Hand, grazier from Western Victoria and CEO of STIPA Native Grasses join us, however for those who were looking forward to what he has to say, listen to this podcast. It covers many topics including grazing management, reading the landscape and making a change...

You can still register for our future webinars via the National Landcare Facilitator website.

We look forward to you joining us!

PS. Please leave a comment below with how you would have responded to our poll questions or what you think are the questions we need to be asking of the scientific community to regenerate Australia’s soil health.

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A healthy landscape