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Soils Community of Practice Update
July + August 2021

“There is hope if people will begin to awaken that spiritual part of themselves, that heartfelt knowledge that we are caretakers of this planet.”  ~ Brooke Medicine Eagle

In this edition:

Welcome to the 89th edition of the Soils Community of Practice Newsletter. In this edition we will be addressing soil biodiversity, carbon farming and how it compares to carbon sequestration.

We will also be delving into the science behind global warming, the crucial role soil plays as a carbon pool, and the connection with climate change.

Understanding the science is as important as improving soil health and adopting sustainable land management practices. Interpreting the science so everyone can become inspired to learn more and take action.

There has been a lot of talk regarding the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.

With it comes dire warnings and messages of hope with an emphasis on global carbon pools and methods of sequestering carbon. 

Soil is the second largest carbon pool on the planet and with it comes high expectations to mitigate global warming. 

The feature articles will present key findings of recent research to explain the benefits and barriers to soil acidity, improving soil organic carbon, as well as what we need to know to become involved in carbon farming.

Keep interested in the science because we are always seeking innovative ways to improve the opportunities and move towards a more sustainable future.

Happy reading,
Martin Hamilton

Carbon and soils
Biosphere and World

As readers of this newsletter there is no need to explain the carbon cycle and how carbon is used in the soil.

Moreover, it is just as important to understand how carbon is a source of energy that transitions through the landscape and the atmosphere.

As well as carbon, methane and nitrous oxide are other sources of energy being emitted into the atmosphere and compounding the issue of global warming.

Much has been done to research and mitigate these losses with many advances being achieved.

Carbon, methane and nitrous oxide all occur naturally and are potent sources of energy and greenhouse gasses.

Their losses from our farming system are leakages of energy. It is like turning on a tap and walking away.

Finding ways to sequester the energy, and minimise the leakages, will boost our productivity as well as improve the health of the soil and reduce the warming effect in the atmosphere.

For example, modelling conducted by researchers predict higher quality pasture systems will produce a 33 per cent increase in stocking rate, and 38 per cent increase in milk/ha and 19 per cent less total CO2e/L milk, 11 per cent less CH4/cow (Eckhard et al, 2007).

Methane and nitrous oxide are 23 and 273 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The methane emitted from one cow, over a year, is the energy equivalent of driving a Prado from Melbourne to Brisbane (based on Eckhard presentation in person).

That up to 40 per cent of nitrogen applied

Measuring methane

to pastures is lost (Browne et al, 20111), and that 75 – 95 per cent of nitrogen consumed by animals is excreted and lost as nitrous oxide (Eckhard et al2).

By understanding the science, we can identify the leakages and find ways to reduce them, keeping these potent sources of energy in our farming systems.

Our agricultural soils have lost up to 60 per cent of their organic carbon from the 0 – 10 cm layer (Chan et al. 20103), which represents a significant opportunity to sequester additional carbon.

Improving soil organic carbon also benefits nitrogen cycling and provides improved quality feed to livestock.

Martin Hamilton

Land Health Extension Officer, Agriculture Victoria

1 N. Browne, R. Eckard, R. Behrendt, R. Kingwell (2011). A comparative analysis of on-farm greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural enterprises in south eastern Australia. Animal Feed Science and Technology. Elsevier Press.

2 Eckard, R.J., Chapman, D.F. & White, R.E., (2007) Nitrogen balances in temperate perennial grass and clover dairy pastures in south-eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 58, 1167-1173. doi: 10.1071/AR07022

3 K. Chan, A. Oates, D. Liu, R. Prangnell, G Poile, M. Conyers (2010). A farmer’s guide to increasing soil organic carbon under pastures, Industry & Investment NSW, Wagga Wagga NSW.

Feature article
Healthy Soils Webinar

Three inspiring and informative webinars, about an hour each, explaining recent and timely research in fertilisers, soil acidity and soil organic carbon (SOC). Drawing your attention to the key messages found throughout.

Soil acidification is a consequence of agricultural production, as is building soil carbon and increasing nitrogen.

Paying attention to pH is critical. Managing acidity by improving soil pH to 5 also eliminates aluminium toxicity.

However, the movement of lime down through the profile occurs by maintaining pH above 5.5 and will take time to increase the soil pH at depth greater than 20 cm.


Understand the pools of carbon within the soil, how it transitions from one pool to the other and manage carbon flows not stocks, accordingly.

Understand the difference between soil organic matter (SOM) and SOC and the roles of both. As we know, carbon provides benefits beyond trading.

Local news
Carbon Credits vs Carbon Sequestration

Are you interested in soil carbon farming but not sure where to start?
This practical article from the Australian Farm Institute, based on University of Melbourne research, provides information to help growers use soil carbon farming to improve soil health and farm productivity as well as offset Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. It explains how growers can participate in the Australian Government's Emissions Reduction Fund and discusses potential and actual costs.

Cashing In
Soil moisture monitoring Newsletter

Keep up to date with the Rain and Grain Project, which uses soil moisture monitoring probes to provide real time soil water content data from various cropping monitoring sites across the state.

The Fast Break and The Very Fast Break

Keep up with the latest seasonal climate risk information, including details of oceanic and atmospheric climate driver activities for Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

National news
National Soil Strategy

The Australian Government has committed to a $214.9 million soil package of which $196.9 million is new funding through the 2021 – 22 Budget over four years to implement the National Soil Strategy and the associated Commonwealth Interim Action Plan.

Soil scientists gather from around the country

The recently held 2021 Joint Conference of Soil Science Australia and the New Zealand Society of Soil Science in Cairns was a great success. Members from the Soil Cooperative Research Center  share their reflections.

National Soils Advocate announces inaugural winner

Congratulations to leading academic and science communicator in the field of soil science and soil biology, Emeritus Professor Lynette Abbott, for scooping up the inaugural General Jeffery Soil Health Award.

Looking to the past for a sustainable future

Amos Howard, found subclover growing in a field in 1889. He very quickly recognised its value as fodder for livestock, while also improving soil fertility.

Teenagers connecting to nature

Even when locked down at home, both girls and boys can cultivate empathy for animals and nourish their connections to nature by taking mindful note of their surroundings. Conservation is increasingly reliant on young citizens forming meaningful connections with urban nature.

Benefits of community gardens

With millions of Australians enduring lockdown yet again, you may be seeking solace in gardening. For migrants and refugees in Australia, gardening can be particularly meaningful when shared in community spaces.

New expertise joins the Soil CRC

The Soil CRC will increase its soil research capacity with two distinguished scientists joining one of its partner universities, Professor Daniel Murphy and Associate Professor Frances Hoyle.

Investing in the future of soil research

An important feature of all CRCs is building capacity for the future, and the Soil CRC is no different. The Soil CRC has now exceeded its PhD student goal, with the latest approval of six PhD scholarships taking it to 50 PhD students supported through the CRC.
You can read more about one of those PhD’s here.

International news
‘Cyborg Soil’ reveals metropolis beneath our feet

Without disturbing the soil, our studies revealed the dark, dank cities in which soil microbes reside. We found labyrinths of tiny highways, skyscrapers, bridges and rivers which are navigated by microorganisms to find food, or to avoid becoming someone’s next meal.

Three ways to repair the climate
time lapse images of cotton undies degraded by soil microbes

More than ever, we are looking to the science to explain global warming and looking to the carbon sinks to help repair the climate.The only way to reverse some of these catastrophic patterns, and to regain a kind of stability in climate and weather systems, is “climate repair”.

New model tracks carbon in agro-ecosystems
fungi image zoomed in

Measuring and modelling changes in SOC is challenging. Using an innovative "model-data fusion" approach, which integrates advanced model simulations with observational data, researchers are able to validate model simulation results, constrain uncertain model parameters, and ensure that the model emulates the processes driving the carbon cycle at all stages.

Carbon farming needs clear rules

Given the momentum behind carbon farming as a climate change mitigation strategy, we believe now is the time to establish clear standards that ensure that only real net changes in carbon receive financial rewards.

Soil tested for hidden contaminants in community gardens

Not all garden soils are created equal. Soil, particularly in urban areas, can hold contaminants that are unhealthy for people who handle it or eat things grown in the ground.

When a single tree makes a difference

Research suggests that planting individual trees can be a strategy to mitigate urban heat, particularly in areas where land for parks can be scarce.

Life and death in the soil

The carrion beetles (also known as burying beetles or sexton beetles), are masters of death. Soil could be seen as a very thin, breathing skin of the planet, full of a myriad of different, beautiful forms of invisible life – an ecosystem that enables life to reform from death.

Compost improves apple orchid sustainability

A healthy soil depends on many factors. One of those factors is the microbial community living in the soil. Some of these microbes convert nutrients into forms apple trees can use.

Measuring nitrogen in green manures

Cover crops come with many benefits, like improving soil structure and boosting beneficial microbes. Chemical fertilizers allow for the exact calculation of the amount of nitrogen applied to a crop. But how much nitrogen is provided by each type of cover crop isn’t a known number.

Methane emissions from food waste

Biogas residues, so called digestates, contain valuable nutrients and are therefore suitable as agricultural fertilisers. Composting as a post-treatment can transform solid digestate to a stable and less odour emitting, safe and nutritive soil amendment.

Where food meets methane

Scientists study the global methane budget to better understand the primary sources of methane emissions and how they contribute to climate change. The greatest natural source of methane is wetlands, which contribute 30 per cent of global methane emissions. Other natural sources of methane emissions include the oceans, termites, permafrost, vegetation and wildfires.

Advances in measuring carbon

Scientists use novel methods to examine movement of carbon in northern terrestrial ecosystems


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