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Caring for our soil: investing in a soil health strategy

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Printed and authorised by Senator Rachel Siewert, 1/151 Northbridge, WA, 6000 Page 1 of 2

Topsoil takes thousands of years to form from the breakdown of rocks and organic matter. Like fossil fuels, we have been using (and losing) topsoil faster than it can be replaced.

> REVERSING THE TREND OF TOPSOIL LOSS As a pivotal resource for agriculture and food production, how we treat our soil has major implications for global food supply now and into the future.

Soil loss is due to a range of factors, but the most significant causes are intensive fertiliser use and erosion caused by land clearing.

Soil loss is having a significant impact on our agricultural productivity. The Greens know that we need to invest in better monitoring and research in order to reverse the loss of our precious topsoil. This is why the Greens will:

 Invest $75million over the forward estimates to fund the national soil health strategy. i

 Encourage state and territory governments to match this investment.  Support consistent, ongoing research and monitoring over the long term.

> SECURING BETTER RETURNS FOR OUR FARMERS Research and development that drives the uptake of regenerative agricultural practices doesn't just have environmental benefits. It also delivers financial returns to our farmers.

For example, the CPD Report Farming Smarter found that acting now to improve soil condition could increase wheat production by up to $2.1 billion per year. ii

The Greens investment in a soil strategy will drive innovation in farming techniques to gives Australian farmers a lasting competitive advantage by:

 reducing the costs of inputs such as fertilizer  reversing the decline in productivity that results from poor soil quality.

> FRAGMENTED DATA IS FAILING OUR FARMERS Currently, there are no comprehensive and regularly updated national datasets about our soil.

The last national assessment of the state of our soil and water, The Australian Natural Land and Water Resources Audit, was published in 2002. It found that of Australia’s nearly 460 million hectares of agricultural land nearly 40 million hectares suffered from unsustainable erosion; over 20 million hectares was severely degraded as the result of acid soils; more than 3 million hectares was affected by salinity and a further 100 million hectares were characterised by sodic soils (soils that contain excessive quantities of sodium, which impedes water penetration and plant growth and causes waterlogging and erosion).


Despite this evidence of extensive degradation, government monitoring and intervention has fallen short of what is required. Our plan would ensure that regular landscape monitoring and data analysis occurs in the future.

CARING FOR OUR SOIL INVESTING IN A SOIL HEALTH STRATEGY The Greens’ plan for improving the productivity of our agricultural land

Australia's topsoil is critical to our agricultural productivity, but our soils are being degraded at an unsustainable rate. The Greens will invest in a national soil health strategy to improve our soil conditions, which will also help farmers cut back on their fertiliser and water use.

Issued on 30 August 2013. | Printed and authorised by Senator Rachel Siewert, 1/151 Northbridge, WA, 6000 Page 2 of 2

> A VICIOUS CYCLE: POOR SOIL AND THE RELIANCE ON FERTILISERS Typical modern agricultural practices are very reliant on fossil fuel inputs to boost soil fertility and control pests. Australian soil is also often lacking phosphorous.

Excess nutrients, pesticides and animal wastes have also resulted in pollution of soil and water resources, causing health hazards for human and animal populations, a loss of biodiversity and the contamination of rivers, coastal waters and lakes.

Both fossil fuels and phosphorous are finite inputs that are being rapidly depleted. So, as well as the environmental impacts, the depletion of the readily available sources of these inputs means that the cost of buying them is increasing, which also puts more pressure on our farmers.

> OTHER RESEARCH AND MANAGEMENT INCENTIVES Australian farmers have a strong track record of adopting new practices. Giving farmers better information will help them restore degraded land resources. Adapting their farming techniques can also ensure they are resilient in the face of new threats such as climate change and profitable in the long-term. Yet, the old parties have let public investment in agricultural research, development and implementation decline for the last two decades. This is why the Australian Greens have also launched an initiative to increase Commonwealth investment in agricultural R&D by 7%, an extra $300 million, over the forward estimates.

However research, development and extension alone is not enough. If we want to ensure we have prosperous farmers and sustainable landscapes and don’t want to pay more for food, other forms of government assistance must be developed.

The Greens already have a strong track record in recognising the need to reward farmers’ environmental stewardship, having negotiated a $1.7 billion for the Biodiversity Fund and the Carbon Farming Initiative, both of which financially reward farmers for sustainable practices, including specific funding to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land managers.

As Australia’s first Advocate for Soils, Michael Jeffrey, stated on his appointment: Farmers and landowners are the key carers of our soils and country; they should be recognised not just for their food production but as stewards of our landscape and if they make improvements… that is something we as citizens should jointly financially support.


It is time to move to a nation-wide system of payments for farmers, linked to clear bioregional environmental stewardship standards.

This is why the Greens will direct some research funding towards programs that develop more ways to reward farmers for restoring and maintaining the ecosystem.

The Greens will also align financial incentives with the long-term needs of sustainable farming communities, which include preparing communities for more frequent and severe droughts.

i This reflects the recommendation of the Centre for Policy Development in their 2012 report, Farming Smarter, Not Harder. ii

Eadie, L and Stone, C 2012, Farming smarter not harder, Centre for Policy Development. P.90 - iii Australian National Land and Water Resources Audit 2002, Final Report - iv

The Australian 2012, Ex-G-G is the first Advocate for Soils -