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Soils for Life recently convened a discussion between producers and advisors in Victoria’s fertile, rich soil, high rainfall Gippsland region, along with local MP Russell Broadbent to discuss the incredible work that’s been done in the region to date to rebuild soils and production systems, what’s needed now, and how government could support more producers to build soil health and landscape function. We look forward to working with this experienced and innovative group, and others, to progress these opportunities in Gippsland.

Soils for Life were responding to a rapid increase in interest in soil health in the region, especially in soil biology and ‘regenerative agriculture’. Participants in this event identified a range of challenges and opportunities to build on this momentum, and on the region’s long track record of successful research, pilots and farmer innovation.

Challenges and barriers

Participants identified a number of key challenges facing farmers in the region who are looking to improve soil health. These included:

  • Gaps in education for producers about soil, including the need for information and educational resources to support farmer innovation;;
  • Some producers feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how and where to start when it comes to improving soil health and function;
  • Short cycles of project funding, aligned with 3-4 year election cycles, and the fact that farmers can’t keep projects going without independent funded support;
  • Lack of consistency in reporting on water and soil health across regions, making it difficult to create national reports on progress
  • The challenge of securing a sufficiently large proportion of producers in a region or catchment to participate in research projects, which is often necessary for good outcomes
  • The lack of independent advice for producers, with most advice coming from advisers funded by companies selling products
  • A huge interest in regenerative agriculture, but limited support and investment in research and development in this space

Past successes

The region has seen a number of successful programs, however these were often limited in scale and now outdated. Some of the successful programs include:

  • A project that reviewed available research, and assessed the quality and robustness of each study
  • A 5-year Healthy Soils, Sustainable Farms research program which undertook trials on farms across the catchment, which importantly had a dedicated funded person (not the producers) doing data collection
  • A current project involving South Gippsland Landcare on biological health, involving 35 farms across the region
  • Work funded by the Victorian Government around 15 years ago, looking at the intersection between agriculture, food and health, and including cross-disciplinary conferences
  • Soil carbon monitoring across different soil types, funded by Agriculture Victoria
  • A project which, uniquely, managed to involve 90% of producers in the Corner Inlet catchment to monitor nutrient runoff and prepare soil nutrient management plans
  • Trials of the Soilkee renovator, a locally-developed technology
  • Many small scale trials, case studies and other initiatives delivered by the Catchment Management Associations and local Landcare groups

Needs and opportunities

Some of the key needs identified were:

  • Longer term, more stable funding for initiatives
  • More peer-reviewed science
  • Greater focus on soil biology

The group discussed a range of opportunities moving forward to drive more activity in the region around soil health. These included:

  • The next iteration of Landcare, commencing in July 2023
  • The National Soil Strategy programs
  • The emerging CSIRO sustainable agriculture program
  • The Smart Farm Grants program, noting that this is small scale

The group also discussed the possibility of establishing Gippsland as a hub for soil health and landscape regeneration, and agreed to continue to work together to pursue these opportunities. The group highlighted the value of Soils for Life’s convening role, and the critical importance of CMAs and Landcare groups in progressing initiatives in the region.

Are you a Gippsland producer interested in soil and landscape regeneration? Get in touch with us via [email protected]!

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