If soil is a measure of the quality of our relationship we have with the earth, then it is time we had some emergency relationship counselling.
It is no wonder we are facing increased soil degradation and desertification. Like all good relationships, they need to be nurtured.
Fortunately, 2021 is shaping up to be the year where we are throwing everything we have at saving out relationship with the earth that feeds us.
We are seeing unprecedented collaboration from government, industry, research and educators to save our soil.
This year, the Federal Government has recognised Australia's soil resources as a key national asset.
I applaud the government for its commitment to a new National Soil Strategy announced in the 2021-22 Budget.
It will deliver $196.9million in new funding over four years to implement the Strategy and associated measures as part of an Australian Government Action Plan.
In addition to the budget announcement, the Federal Government has funded Southern Cross University, as leaders in soil science and regenerative agriculture education, to deliver eight ground-breaking soil research projects.
The research funding will quantify the benefits of regenerative agricultural practices in restoring degraded soils across Australia over three years.
Southern Cross University will be doing applied collaborative research, with the Farming Together team delivering workshops and field days in bio-regions around the country with groups of farmers, consultants, natural resource managers and researchers to address a wide range of challenges to help farms become more resilient in a changing climate.
Currently, the focus is on using regenerative practices to restore degraded soils and increase soil carbon.
Examples include various applications of multispecies cover crops, effects of pesticides on soil microbial diversity, integrating biochar into regenerative agriculture practices and building soil carbon through regenerative practices.
In order to have impact, these projects have been designed as pilots to build capacity in different bioregions across the country.
With the carbon farming market in Australia developing at pace, more farmers are crying out for an evidence-based approach to sequester more carbon and diversify farm income.
This research fills a glaring gap in knowledge which has been a major obstacle to an Australia-wide transition to regenerative practice.
This research will finally give farmers across different bio-regions an evidence-based approach to build carbon in their soils by implementing practices such as multispecies cover cropping.
This soil research is a different model compared to traditional research. It's a bottom-up approach, not a top-down one.
Farmers have come to the researchers with a problem and farmers, researchers and other important stakeholders collaborate to co-create solutions delivering on-the-ground benefits for farmers, whilst also contributing to a scientific base of knowledge.
In addition to the $196.9million National Soil Strategy Funding and the $2.5million Southern Cross soil research projects, the Government has also committed $64million into eight Drought Hubs across Australia, part of the $5billion Future Drought Fund.
Southern Cross is partnering with three of these hubs - located in Southern Queensland/Northern New South Wales, Tasmania, and Western Australia - translating research into practice to help primary producers and rural and regional communities prepare for future droughts.
Let's hope that all these funded programs will go a long way to heal our soil.
Let 2021 be the year we turned our relationship with the earth around.
- Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Farming Together Program. She is a Carbon Farmer and Beef Producer in NE Tablelands.