State of the Environment Report 2009
Indicators
Soil Management


Indicator description

The number of land managers that use agreed benchmark monitoring parameters and/or best (or more sustainable) land management practices, as a proportion of all land managers of that category.

Why is it indicative?

This indicator is needed in response to mitigating threatening processes such as degradation in soil condition, accelerated erosion, soil structure decline and compaction, changes to natural habitats, hydrological disturbance etc. Landholders, industry bodies and government agencies have expressed strong support for developing robust indicators to monitor long-term soil condition and soil carbon across natural and agricultural areas. They have also expressed their support for improving adherence to international and national best practice, including adoption of environmental assurance schemes.

Data availability and limitations

No Statewide data has been collected on the numbers of land managers that use agreed benchmark monitoring parameters and/or best (or more sustainable) practices, as a proportion of all land managers of a particular land use such as agriculture. However, NHT had supported the establishment of more than 200 Property Management Plans (PMPs) covering nearly 200,000 ha of land in Tasmania to improve sustainable agriculture (Internal linkNHT 2007).To date, no work has been completed or piloted to develop an ecolabel accreditation scheme that incorporates best practice soil management.

Data

SCEAM Project

In response to the recommendation for more comprehensive soil research, the Soil Condition Evaluation and Monitoring (SCEAM) Project commenced in March 2004. This joint initiative between DPIW and the Natural Resource Management (NRM) regions is funded by the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT). The SCEAM Project aims to establish benchmark data for a range of soil condition indicators. All major land-uses in Tasmania have been targeted, including intensive cropping, grazing, native and plantation forestry (focussing on recent land use change from agriculture to plantation forestry), and perennial horticulture and conservation areas. The land use categories used in the SCEAM Project loosely follow the codes used in the ALUM classification system although they are slightly different for some soil types in cases where DPIW has needed to differentiate uses for varying Tasmanian conditions (e.g. highland grazing). The ALUM classification system provides a nationally consistent method to collect and present land use information for a wide range of users across Australia. More information on the ALUM classification system can be found though the External linkBRS website

Three hundred long-term reference sites have been established on a variety of different soil type and land use combinations to monitor long-term soil condition across agricultural areas. In addition, 77 of the reference sites have been sampled for organic carbon in an effort to establish benchmarks for future comparison of soil organic carbon levels across all sampled soil type/land use combinations (Internal linkMcDonald et al. 2007; see also Internal linkDixon 2007). The following maps detail the general location of the 300 long-term reference sites soil types for SCEAM monitoring sites and the land use categories sampled for the SCEAM soil monitoring sites (Internal linkGrose et al. 2006).

Twelve soil origins are targeted as part of the SCEAM Project including: Calcarosols, Chromosols, Dermosols, duplex soils, Ferrosols, Hydrosols, Kurosols, Organosols, Podosols, Sodosols, Tenosols and Vertosols. Kandosols and Rudosols have not been targeted because they comprise a minor component of soil components in the State.

Nine land use categories are targeted including: irrigated pasture, dryland pasture, cropping, intensive cropping, horticulture, native forest, conservation, plantation forestry and rural tree decline.

SCEAM soil types

Soil types for SCEAM monitoring sitesinternal SOE link to larger image

SCEAM land use categories

Land use categories for SCEAM soil monitoring sitesinternal SOE link to larger image

The information collected in the SCEAM Project will be used to develop target values for each soil condition indicator for each soil and land use combination (including pH, soil organic carbon, exchangeable cations, exchangeable sodium, salinity in general and aggregate stability) (Internal linkGrose et al. 2006). Compaction is being assessed by bulk density measurements at two different depths within the top 30 cm of the soil structure. Along with a detailed land management history for each site, the information from these sites will establish baseline data for soil health in Tasmania, and when compared against derived soil indicator target values, will provide an indication of overall soil condition for major soil types and land uses.

Although the SCEAM Project is in its infancy, interest is growing exponentially in the outputs, particularly with respect to the components that examine and measure soil microbial activity. However, it will be some time before predictions or prescriptions are possible in Tasmania.

Organic farming

DPIW supports the organic farming industry in Tasmania and employs an Organics Industry Development Officer. There are approximately 120 certified organic farms in the State farming a total property area of over 5,500 hectares (Internal linkDPIW 2008). Of these, only about 20 could be classed as acreage commercial operations. More information on the DPIW organic farming program can be found though the External link Certifying Bodies and Converting to Organic Farming website.

There are a number of organic certifying bodies which operate under the National Standard for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce and four of these certifying bodies operate in Tasmania.

  • Australian Certified Organic (ACO)/Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA)
  • National Association of Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA)
  • Organic Growers of Australia (OGA)
  • Tasmanian Organic-Dynamic Producers (TOP)

The process of becoming a certified organic farmer involves a statutory declaration on the previous five year history of the property as to whether unacceptable chemicals or fertilisers have been used and how long ago. The formal part of this process takes three years and it involves audits of all aspects of the farming operation. Once the certifying body accepts the application, an independent inspector inspects the property and samples the soil for nutrients herbicides and dip chemical residues. If the test results are satisfactory, the property goes into what is called 'pre-certification' for a year. Product is sold into the conventional market. At the end of the first year the property is inspected again. If all processes have been complied with, the inspector will recommend that the property enter the two year 'in conversion' phase. At the end of the third year of conversion the property is inspected again and if all is satisfactory, the property is certified as being organic. Organic farms are audited annually to retain their organic status.

Dairy industry

The Dairying for Tomorrow Program is the national dairy industry initiative to ensure that Australian dairy farmers are successfully undertaking sustainable land management practices. The Program is led at a national level by Dairy Australia and Australian Dairy Farmers. In Tasmania, it is coordinated in Tasmania through DairyTas.

Dairy Australia completed a major national dairy farm survey in 2006 to determine current natural resource management practices and identify changes since a baseline survey that was conducted in 2000 (Internal linkDairyTas 2008). Key aspects of the survey covered water use, land management, effluent management, fertiliser management, biodiversity and waterways. Sixty Tasmanian dairy farmers were randomly chosen for the survey, representing over 12% of the Tasmanian diary industry. The survey found that continuous farm improvements are being made in the Tasmanian dairy farm industry and 'some dairy industry programs are hitting the mark'. The following graph highlight key changes in natural resource management practices since 2000.

Dairy management practices

Natural resource management practices of Tasmanian dairy farmersinternal SOE link to larger image

Key findings for the 2006 survey of Tasmanian dairy farmers included the following:

  • Forty-two per cent of dairy farmers were involved in some form of NRM program or group, up from 26% in 2000.
  • There has been little change in the number of dairy farmers using irrigation but the average proportion of land irrigated rose from 28% to 38%.
  • Seventy-eight per cent of dairy farmers have used a prescription blend of fertilizer, up from 56% in 2000. This compares to 43% nationally.
  • Forty-seven per cent of dairy farmers were attempting to reduce fertilizer loss into waterways, up from 25% in 2000.
  • Seventy-three per cent of dairy farmers have some part of their waterways fenced off. This is recorded as being more than double the national average and up from the figure in 2000.
  • Seventy-eight per cent of dairy farmers have at least some of their native vegetation fenced off, up from 64% in 2000.
  • Nearly four in 10 dairy farmers with native vegetation and waterways on their property believe that their management can be improved.
  • Farm dams supplied 49% of the irrigation water with 33% of water sourced from rivers.
  • Sixty per cent of dairy farms have some automation compared to 38% nationally.
  • Ninety-two per cent of dairy farmers soil test their farm with 50% conducting soil tests annually.

The NRM components of the Dairying for Tomorrow Program focus on water management, irrigation efficiency, nutrient use around fertilisers and effluent, benchmarking current land and water management practices, dairy effluent and communication of environmental achievements. A number of dairy NRM projects have been developed and implemented in Tasmania since the 2003 SoE report. These include:

  • Best practice dairy effluent management
  • Water quality in the Montagu River catchment
  • Groundwater monitoring in the Montagu
  • Water use efficiency and irrigation practice
  • Phosphorous for dairy project
  • Development of the Targets for Change process
  • Water Use and Nutrient Management project
  • Development and implementation of DairySAT - The Guide
  • Nutrient management in the Montagu River catchment

As part of these NRM projects, the Dairy Effluent Management Project aims to develop best practice dairy effluent management across the dairy industry in Tasmania. The effluent project commenced in 2004–05 with NHT funding for effluent upgrades on 45 dairy farms in the north and northwest regions of Tasmania (Internal linkDairyTas 2008). In 2005–06, a further 41 farms were upgraded. In addition, the National Landcare Program (NLP) provided funding to upgrade six dairy farms in southern Tasmania. In total, this means coverage of nearly 20% of the Tasmanian dairy industry. It represents a total project value of around $700,000 over three years implementation with close to $430,000 for on ground works.

Cropping industries

A small study was conducted on the changes in onion farmer perceptions towards soil conservation and management in the northwest of Tasmania over a 10 year period from 1988–98 (Internal linkCotching et al. 2000). The northwest coast is one of the most intensively cropped regions in Tasmania. Potatoes, onions, peas, poppies, beans, carrots, brassicas (e.g. cauliflower, cabbage) are the major crops grown on the red Ferrosols (basalt soils) of this area. With a history of over 100 years of intensive cultivation, extensive areas of bare cultivated land have been repeatedly exposed to intense rainfall with uncontrolled water movement causing severe sheet and rill erosion. Also, continual cultivation and modern day machinery have impacted on soil structure and harvesting techniques have caused soil compaction.

The surveys showed a positive change in farmer perceptions and practices with for example increases in the use of pasture phase in the rotation, growing green manure crops, the amount of grass grown on green manure, the use of soil conservation earthworks such as contour drains and grassed irrigation runs, growing of cover crops in onions, and the use of deep ripping. There was also a decrease in the number of farmers who considered themselves as having soil structure problems and severe soil erosion. However, the surveys also indicated that farmer perceptions could be constraining greater adoption of best practices in soil conservation (i.e. they think that they are already taking preventative action).

Related Indicators

Distribution of SoilsInternal link

Soil Structure Decline and CompactionInternal link

Percent of Cropped Land with Reduced Tillage Plus Stubble RetentionInternal link

Related Issues

An indicator can show trends or changes that apply to one or more environmental issues. The data within an indicator is used to inform an issue report and any related recommendations. A summary of the indicator's relevance to a particular issue can be found within the 'Indicator' section of each of the linked issue reports below.

Soil DiversityInternal link

  External linkTasmanian Planning Commissioninternal SOE link to larger image

  Contact the Commission on:

email: External linksoe@justice.tas.gov.au
Phone: (03) 6233 2795 (within Australia)
Fax: (03) 6233 5400 (within Australia)
Or mail to: Tasmanian Planning Commission, GPO Box 1691, Hobart, TAS, 7001, Australia

 


Last Modified: 1 Mar 2010
URL: http://soer.justice.tas.gov.au/2009/indicator/125/index.php
You are directed to a disclaimer and copyright notice governing the information provided.