In Memoriam: The Hon Major General Michael Jeffery

Vale Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery

It is with deep sadness that we share the news that Soils For Life founder and patron Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery passed away peacefully at home this morning, Friday 18 December.

Born in Wiluna in Western Australia, General Jeffery’s distinguished military career included operational service in Malaya, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, where he was awarded the Military Cross and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He served as Governor of Western Australia from 1993 to 2000 and as Australia’s Governor General between 2003 and 2008.

However, it was his work as Australia’s National Soils Advocate that made him so well known and loved within our community. In that role, General Jeffery was pivotal in alerting Australians to the generally poor quality of our soils and working to encourage everyone to focus on their regeneration.

General Jeffery founded Soils For Life in 2013. His vision – to encourage all Australians to focus on soil health and the urgent need to regenerate our rural landscapes – still underpins the work of Soils For Life.

His ability to connect with Australians across the country around his passion for agriculture and the healthy landscape it depends on was undiminished until the very end.

Funeral arrangements are to be advised. Further enquiries should be sent to the Office of the Major General.

Read more about General Jeffery and his work as National Soils Advocate here.

End for year message from CEO

Happy Holidays from the Soils For Life team!

The Soils For Life Team
Some members of the Soils For Life team: (L-R) Richard Thackway, Kirsty Yeates, James Diack, Rebecca Palmer-Brodie, Narelle Luff, Liz Clarke, Mark Parsons, Jen Richards, Paris Capell.

As 2020 draws to a close the dramatic events of this year have highlighted the urgent need to build greater resilience to shocks and stresses to our agricultural systems (as well as our social-ecological systems more generally).

At Soils for Life, we have had to substantially pause our case study program and associated activities during COVID-19 (with associated border closures and travel bans etc). We anticipate ramping up these activities early in the New Year, along with our other project commitments, such as the new Rangelands Living Skin project with NSW DPI, which will focus on soil regenerative practices and farmer innovation and peer mentoring processes.

2021 will be an exciting year for us, with a range of new initiatives planned as part of our ongoing support to Australian farmers in regenerating soils and landscapes. We have just released our interim Strategic Framework, which is a high level outline of our role, mission and core activities. A full strategic plan will be released in 2021.  

We’ve had a great response to our Project and Outreach Manager job advertisement (advertised in the last newsletter), and there’s still a little more time to apply with applications closing on 24 December 2020. In addition, we are also about to advertise for a Communications and Engagement Manager to complement our team.

It is a pleasure to be able to end the year by releasing our new reports on Winona, providing the latest instalment in Colin Seis’ regenerative journey, highlighting growing profitability, landscape and soil health, and resilience of the property.

The Soils For Life team wish you all health and happiness – and hopefully some relaxation! -over the Christmas holiday period. Our office will be closed from 21 December 2020 until 4 January 2021. We are looking forward to an exciting and prosperous new year.

Liz Clarke CEO

Rangeland Living Skin Artwork Competition

Artwork competition for kids in the NSW Rangelands!

Rangeland Living Skin is a new project in the NSW Rangelands linking scientists and farming families.

The expansive wide-open spaces of Australia’s rangelands make up a large part of our continent. ‘Rangeland Living Skin’ is a new project led by NSW Department of Primary Industries and supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, recognising the importance of productivity and resilience in our rangelands. Collaborating with scientists and farming families, the project will focus on soil, plants, animals and people as the living skin of the rangelands.

To celebrate the launch of this project, we are inviting primary school students in the Western LLS Region to enter the Rangelands Living Skin Artwork Competition and create an artwork that represents the work of the project over the next four years. There are some exciting prizes to be won!

To find out what’s involved and how your school can enter, download the form below.

Parliamentary Friends of Soil- World Soils Day

Politicians, farmers, scientists, and industry celebrate World Soil Day

People with a passion for soil health converged in Canberra this week for the first meeting of the Parliamentary Friends of Soil.

The Parliamentary Friends Group, co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister the Hon Michael McCormack MP and the Hon Linda Burney MP, met just days ahead of World Soil Day (5 December) to acknowledge the importance of healthy soil as a natural resource, and its contribution to Australia’s long-term economic, environmental and social wellbeing.

The Hon Linda Burney MP, co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Soil group speaking to the first meeting ahead of World Soil Day.

“The Soil CRC is thrilled to be supporting the establishment of the Parliamentary Friends of Soil,” said Dr Michael Crawford, CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soils.

“It’s vital we have non-partisan support for the three peak bodies for soil – the Soil CRC, Soil Science Australia and Soils For Life – to bring issues associated with soil health to the attention of politicians and policy makers.

“This is a great opportunity for the Australian soil community to come together, and highlight that it all starts with the soil” he said.

At the breakfast, parliamentarians got the chance to engage with farmers, scientists, industry groups and policy makers on issues relating to health and maintenance of Australia’s soils.

“The support we get from groups like this, and individuals such as the National Soils Advocate, the Hon Penelope Wensley AC, leads to greater collaboration between industry and science,” said Professor Luke Mosley, President of Soil Science Australia.

“These types of relationships clear the pathway to adoption of new soil management technologies which will help us address challenges such as a hotter drier climate,” he said.

National Soil Advocate the Hon Penelope Wensley addressed the group, speaking with optimism about the common commitment in the room.

“Having this friendship group is certainly something to celebrate this World Soils Day,” said Dr Liz Clarke, CEO of the farmer organisation Soils For Life.

“This thin, living layer around our planet supports all life on land and stores carbon and water. This is an important opportunity to work together as a soil health community to address the critical status of soils.

“It’s vital we are all protecting and regenerating soils. After all, the earth’s soil is a fundamental life-support system,” she said.

The Parliamentary Friends of Soil is made up of ten MPs

  • Michael McCormack (co-Chair) – Riverina NSW
  • Linda Burney (co-Chair) – Barton NSW
  • Meryl Swanson MP – Paterson NSW
  • James McGrath – Senate Qld
  • Hollie Hughes – Senate NSW
  • Ken O’Dowd – Flynn Qld
  • Susan McDonald – Senate Qld
  • Tony Pasin – Barker SA
  • Kevin Hogan – Page NSW
  • Rick Wilson – O’Connor WA.

The group was formed as a result of collaborations between the Soil CRC, Soil Science Australia and Soils for Life with support from the National Soils Advocate.

For more information about the Parliamentary Friends of Soil group contact Soils For Life.

Message from Liz Clarke, CEO of Soils For Life

Message from Liz Clarke, CEO of Soils For Life

Soils For Life CEO Liz Clarke at the Parliamentary Friends of Soil meeting with Michael Crawford and David Littleproud.

The past two months have been hectic in the Soils For Life office as we pull together a new strategy to align our focus to support Australian farmers in regenerating soils and landscapes. We are also looking at how we ensure our case study process and engage in new projects in 2021 that help us to support landholders to build natural and social capital and transform the food system.

In the past year, Soils For Life is one of the three organisations involved in the establishment of a Parliamentary Friends of Soil group along with lead organisation, the Soil CRC and Soil Science Australia. The first meeting of the non-partisan group co-chaired by Michael McCormack and Linda Burney at Old Parliament House on 4th December, just ahead of World Soils Day.  The new National Soil Advocate Penelope Wensley addressed the meeting, along with Minister David Littleproud. Ministers Sussan Ley and Angus Taylor also attended along with a broad range of key partners in involved in soil research and management.

Saturday 5 December is World Soils Day. This day, championed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, is a reminder of the fundamental importance of soils which support all terrestrial life and without which we cannot survive.

World Soil Day- Keep Soil Alive, Protect Soil Biodiversity

World Soil Day Q&A!

Each year, World Soil Day celebrates the importance of soil health and raises awareness for the sustainable management of our soil resources. The theme for World Soil Day 2020 is ‘Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity’.

Sampling the soil at Winona to assess the soil microbial biomass.

What is soil biodiversity and how can we manage soil resources to protect it? We asked soil scientist Katharine Brown a few questions on how to protect soil biodiversity and keep soil alive:

Q. What is soil biodiversity?

A. In the simplest terms, soil biodiversity is the variety of living organisms in the soil. The living soil may include bacteria and fungi as well as larger soil organisms such as earthworms and insects. It is estimated that greater than 25% of the living organisms on Earth live in the soil!

Q. Why is soil biodiversity important?

A. Soil organisms represent the soil ‘workforce’. They contribute to soil health, plant growth, water purification, carbon sequestration and human health. A range in workforce skills (soil biodiversity) will result in greater outputs (soil productivity).

Q. How do we protect soil biodiversity and keep soil alive?

A. Soil organisms have the same needs as we do. They need air, water, food and shelter to survive. Implementing land management practices that promote soil aeration, maximise water infiltration and retention, provide a food source for the soil organisms and preserve the soil structure, will protect soil biodiversity and keep the soil alive.

Smelling the soil at Rothesay. Healthy soil with a diversity of active organisms will smell earthy and sweet.

Q. What can land managers do to protect soil biodiversity?

A. There are a number of ways land managers can both protect and encourage soil biodiversity. Maximising groundcover and minimising soil disturbance are two effective methods.

Groundcover, whether it be green plants, stubble, mulch or leaf litter, protects the soil surface, promotes infiltration, stabilises the soil (think anchoring roots and root exudates binding soil aggregates), and contributes as a food source.

Minimising soil disturbance preserves the soil structure (shelter for soil organisms),  reduces the rate of breakdown of organic material, and reduces the loss of soil biodiversity as a result of soil erosion.

Q. Does soil organic matter help soil biodiversity?

A. Increasing soil organic matter will definitely help soil biodiversity. Planting green manure crops or spreading mulch or compost are examples of how a land manager can increase soil organic matter. Managing the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in the soil to control the rate of organic matter breakdown and the release of nutrients is also important.

Ground cover after rain on Milgadara.

Q. How do plants contribute to soil biodiversity?

A. Plants contribute by transforming carbon dioxide and water from the air and soil into sugars (a food source for soil organisms) through photosynthesis. Some plants contribute to the soil (for example, nitrogen fixing legumes), others deplete the soil, particularly under agricultural land uses. Introducing plant diversity and rotation can help to both preserve soil nutrients and prevent pests and disease. In addition, planting trees, shrubs and grasses (along boundaries for example) will provide habitat and food sources for soil organisms.

Q. Does the use of chemicals have an effect on soil biodiversity?

A. Yes. A useful analogy is to consider the effect antibiotics have on our gut bacteria. It is common knowledge that antibiotics can eliminate both harmful and beneficial bacteria. Ultimately, the balance of the gut biome is disturbed. A similar imbalance will occur in the soil when chemicals are used to either eliminate or promote an element or organism. Minimising the use of chemicals will help to maintain the balance and diversity of soil organisms.

Learn more about  soil biodiversity and World Soil Day from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Four key economic measures used in our case studies

Dollars and sense: What we look at in our case study economic reports

The Soils For Life team provides professional assessment of properties that are using regenerative landscape management practices. Our case study program considers the quadruple bottom line of each property by looking at the effects of regenerative agriculture practices on a farm’s production, economics and ecology as well as the social implications of these practices.

Preparing an economic report

To prepare our economic reports, Soils For Life conducts a detailed analysis of each case study farm to investigate how the business has performed over time. Using data from Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), we compare the farm to others in the same industry and climate. Case study participants supply production records and Profit and Loss statements for a 10-year period.  We also interview business managers to understand why they do what they do, how they make decisions and what changes they have made. The numbers are crunched by an agribusiness consulting firm to generate indices which make the business performance clear, whilst still protecting the privacy of case study families.  This allows like for like comparisons.

Our four key measures

There are four key measures we use to assess business performance.

1.     Production and Income

A great way to get an initial picture of activities on a farm is to assess how much was produced and what that earned.  By looking at the proportion of income generated by each enterprise we can see what is keeping the business afloat.

2.     Costs

Examining expenses allows us to understand what is driving the profitability of farm activities.  This is a topical issue in agriculture today with some producers focusing on reducing costs wherever possible and others making significant investments to build resilience and improve outputs.  A number of successful farmers have applied both strategies at the same time.  To the extent possible we break costs down on a per enterprise basis.

3.     Gross Margin

Gross Profit Margin shows how much revenue you keep after accounting for costs.  It is an important measure because it indicates how much room there is for mistakes or other things that can’t be controlled. Gross margin also reflects the capacity of a business to make investments in new capital items or other longer term initiatives.

4.     Business Profit

At the end of the day this is the bottom line of business performance. Business profit is calculated as total revenue less total direct and overhead costs, like almost all our other measures it is represented on a per hectare basis.  Ultimately, profit allows a farm business to provide income on an ongoing basis.

Read about how land managers have improved each of these business criteria on their farms in latest case study reports. You can search them by state or sector here.

Are you farming using regenerative agriculture practices? Why not consider applying to be a case study.

Regenerative producers take out major produce awards!

The proof is in the tasting: Regenerative producers take out major produce awards!

Congratulations go to regenerative farmer Garry Kadwell, a Soils For Life case study farmer, for winning the Producer of the Year award in the prestigious Delicious Harvey Norman Produce Awards announced in October!  

The Harvey Norman Delicious produce awards are some of the most prestigious food awards in the country. Decided on by a panel of expert palettes, including Matt Moran, Maggie Beer and slew of chefs from around the country, these awards recognise the best of the best-tasting produce in the country. Medals are awarded for top producers in categories such as “From the Ground”, “From the Paddock” and “From the Dairy” as well as selecting a producer of the year from among all the entries.

And the winner is…

Regenerative farmer Garry Kadwell took out the Producer of the Year Award. He grows seed potatoes on his farm outside Crookwell in NSW, having implemented a number of regenerative practices on his property, Fairhalt, since he took over from his father in the 1980s.

Award winning Andean Sunrise variety of potato.

Garry’s innovations include:

  • Increased time between potato crop rotations to allow soil health to repair.
  • Lucerne and grass species cropping post-potato crop to improve soil health. Compost and lime applications to provide soil nutrients and fix pH levels.
  • Utilisation of a “one pass” tilling machine to reduce tilling impact on soil.
  • Habitat corridors planted across the property to link stands of remnant vegetation.
  • Set aside 32% of the property for conservation purposes.
  • Constructed wetlands on the property to provide habitat for birds and other fauna.
  • Rotationally grazing fat lambs to maintain ground cover.

And the proof of his success is in the tasting! Judge Matt Moran declared his potatoes, an older variety called Andean Sunrise rarely seen in Australia, to be the best potatoes that he had ever tasted!

Find out more about Garry’s enterprise and his regenerative journey in the Soils For Life case study.

Regenerative pork producers also win gold medal

Our congratulations also go to Hamlet Pork who utilise regenerative practices to care for the land as well as produce amazing-tasting food.

Indigenous grains for culture, nutrition and the environment

Sunset at Winona

New research on Indigenous grains for culture, nutrition and the environment

Over the past decades there has been a growing interest in production of native grasses. In collaboration with local Indigenous groups, farmers and researchers, the most extensive study of indigenous grains from paddock-to-plate has just been completed by the University of Sydney.

The Indigenous Grasslands for Grains project from the University of Sydney was a year-long research project into the environmental, economic and cultural viability of growing native grains. The study’s first report, showing very promising results, was recently released.

Find out more about the project and the culinary potential of native grasses here.

Native grains on Gomeroi country

The project studied what is known in the local language as dhunbarbila (meaning lots of edible grain/seed in one place; similar to English ‘grain crop’) on Gomeroi country near Moree and Narrabri in NSW. Guiding the study was Black Duck Foods, a social enterprise and commercial grain production business owned by indigenous food expert Bruce Pascoe on Yuin country near Mallacoota. The project used a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the economic, environmental and social features of the ancient native grain food system of Aboriginal people in the modern world.  After studying 15 native grain crops in conjunction with local Indigenous groups and farmers, researchers found native millet to have the most potential on Gomeroi country with its nutritional value, sustainable growth and ease of processing.

Other species were found to have niche uses. Dhamu (purslane or pigweed) was found to have a potential for export as it has an established market in cultures around the world and is high in omega-3. Wattle, kurrajong, nardoo and quandong were other promising edible species which have been flagged for future research.

The future of native grasses as food

In consultation with Bruce Pascoe, ecologists, social researchers, food scientists and business experts, the project found that improved seed processing and marketing would be the next step towards making the grains commercially available. In consultation with the Local Aboriginal Land Councils from Wee Waa and Narrabri indigenous people expressed the need for:

  • Indigenous community involvement
  • Collaboration between communities
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Economic benefits
  • Links into formal education

Want to learn more? Register for this month’s Native Grains Knowledge Sharing webinar series with Dr Angela Pattison or find the report here.

Message from Liz Clarke, CEO of Soils For Life

Message from Liz Clarke, CEO of Soils For Life

September has seen a steep rise in the profile of regenerative agriculture as the stories of some pioneering farmers have been told in the mainstream media. Australian Story featuring Charles Massy and his regenerative journey aired this week (available for viewing on ABC iView) and a documentary highlighting the importance of soils and regenerative agriculture “Kiss the Ground” was recently released on Netflix. Not only this, the Tony Coote Memorial Lecture was delivered by Alan Savory and is now online for those who missed it.

In addition, portraits of two Soils For Life case study farmers were entered into the Archibald prize this year: Sacha Pola’s portrait of Martin Royds titled “The Regenerator” and Lucy Culliton’s oil on canvas portrait of Charlie Maslin titled “Soils For Life”. Congratulations to Lucy (and Charlie!) for being selected as finalists.

A little removed from the media spotlight, the Hon. Penny Wensley was appointed as the new National Soil Advocate this month. She will continue the work done by the Hon Major General Michael Jeffery advocating for the health of Australia’s agricultural landscapes and soils.

On a different note, thank you to everyone who participated in our communications and engagement survey this month. You provided us with such valuable insights that will help us strengthen our work to keep regenerative agriculture in the spotlight well into the future.