image of soil in hands

WHY IS SOIL IMPORTANT?

Healthy soils are essential for healthy plant growth, human nutrition, ecosystem services such as water filtration and supporting a landscape that is more resilient to the impacts of drought, flood or fire. Healthy soil helps to regulate the Earth’s climate and stores more carbon than all of the world’s forests combined. Healthy soils are fundamental to our survival.

However, many of our land management practices, including agriculture, forestry and fire, have caused significant damage to our landscape, resulting in widespread degradation and depletion of soil health. Soil carbon content has been severely reduced, due to a lack of organic matter, and resultant water-holding capacity is poor. Nutrient availability for plants and animals has been compromised by poor soil health and structure and the ever-increasing reliance on chemical inputs.

This then compromises the health and wellbeing of every one of us world-wide.

WE MUST CHANGE OUR LAND MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

For the past 10,000 and particularly the past 100 years, we have drastically compromised soil health for yield and profitability, and have:

  • mined and degraded soils and natural resources from our land and ocean
  • cleared 75% of the earth’s primary forests and their carbon draw down
  • depleted over 8 billion hectares of our former deep organic soils
  • created over 4 billion hectares of man-made deserts
  • applied ever increasing amounts of chemical fertilizer particularly in monoculture farming enterprises, and,
  • in the process, used 150% of the sustainable resources of the planet*.

We can restore our soil health - the physical, mineral and biological condition of the soil - through a combination of sound water management and a biodiversity of functional vegetation.

Together, supported by the constant flow of solar energy, soil, water and vegetation are the process drivers for a healthy regenerative landscape. We must change our current practices and learn to manage these resources in an integrated way.

image of degraded soil

WE MUST REVERSE LANDSCAPE DEGRADATION

The realities of an increasingly arid and degraded landscape will impact significantly not only on the productivity and viability of agricultural enterprises but also on the health of our environment and the wellbeing of us all. Signs of degradation include:

  • salinity
  • erosion by wind or water
  • declining soil health
  • diminishing river flows
  • high evaporation rates
  • decreasing availability of groundwater
  • rising input costs for fuel and non-organic fertilisers

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that one quarter of the world’s 13 billion hectares of land is degraded.

THE SITUATION IN AUSTRALIA

Even in Australia we are facing the reality of climate extremes and interrelated challenges including:

  • an increasingly arid landscape - particularly in the southern half of the continent, where much of our farming land is degraded
  • more salinity and erosion - in WA, salinity has been spreading at the rate of about a football ground per hour
  • increased erosion – over 1 million kilometres of Australia’s rivers have been incised
  • more erratic and unreliable rainfall, excessive evaporation, diminishing river flows and decreasing dam storage
  • longer drought - and consequently more bushfires
  • more severe storms, cyclones and flooding
  • population growth with more demand on resources and the need for more food production
  • higher farming input costs
  • ...and a changing climate full of contrasts.

Australia - and the world - needs to redesign itself to ensure resilience of our agriculture systems and the ecosystem on which it depends.