Dr Liz Clarke

This month I am very pleased to announce the launch of Soils for Life’s Strategic Plan (2021-2024). The strategy will guide our focus and objectives for the next three years. It represents a pivot for Soils for Life towards a more active and engaged response to the growing interest in soil health and regenerative agriculture.

Our new strategy comes at an important time, amid deepening concerns about climate change in the lead up to the Glasgow global climate conference, biodiversity loss and depletion of ecological systems, and growing risks to food security. The health and function of soils is a critical component of addressing each of these challenges and addresses at least 13 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

As our name suggests, Soils for Life focuses on rebuilding soil health and function. Our mission is to support Australian farmers in regenerating soils and the landscapes they support, to build natural and social capital, and to transform food and fibre systems. Our vision is for an Australia with healthy, regenerated soils and landscapes; healthy, nutritious and abundant food; productive and profitable food and fibre systems; and resilient and connected rural communities.

At Soils for Life, we use the term “regenerative agriculture” to broadly describe any system of principles, practices and decision-making processes that effectively rebuilds soil and landscape health and function. A regenerative approach to agriculture aims to rehabilitate, enhance and work with, rather than against, ecosystem processes and places a premium on soil health.

At the heart of our strategy is a recognition of the value of farmers’ knowledge and their capacity for innovation. At the same time, we also understand the importance of building a strong evidence-base using the best available science. Rebuilding our soils and landscapes requires systemic change, so we broker collaborative partnerships to bring together practitioners (farmers), researchers, and those who develop, and provide advice on, the policy frameworks which are needed to enable change. We are highly supportive of and engaged with the National Soil Strategy including the design of the 5-year National Soil Action Plan, the Future Drought Fund and the upcoming Phase 3 of the National Landcare Program among others, which are important policy vehicles to support change. Soils for Life is also a partner in the Soil Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

Over the past ten years, Soils for Life has delivered a range of compelling case studies of innovative regenerative farmers who are rebuilding and revitalising their soils and landscapes and creating sustainable businesses. We are continuing these case studies, with a pivot towards actively supporting farmer-led, group-based case studies, which celebrate good practice, peer-to-peer learning and innovation.

In addition, we are now rolling out our new Paddock Labs program, with our first project well under way in South Australia, and more to come. We are working with local facilitators, advisors and groups of farmers in the Northern & Yorke and Eyre Peninsula districts to build drought resilience through fostering a citizen science-based approach to on-farm innovation.

As a national organisation, we aim to share the knowledge and insights of our regenerative farmers, build stronger networks and scale up soil regeneration. To support this, we are designing a digital knowledge sharing and collaboration platform, which we hope to launch soon.

Welcome to our new team members

I would like to welcome Helen King and Di Walker to our dedicated team at Soils for Life. Helen joins us as an agroecologist and a self-confessed “soilie”. Helen has a background in research, research management, and extension, and is passionate about soil health in agricultural systems. Di joins our team as Operations Manager, and brings with her a wealth of experience in business and operational management in the public and private sectors, and also a keen interest and lifelong experience in agriculture. Di is also a wool producer in the Yass district. Read more about Helen and Di and the rest of our team on our website.

National Soil Strategy

In the last couple of weeks, I attended the first meetings of two of the consultative bodies – the National Action Plan Working Group, and the Incentive and Extension Consultative Group. The National Action Plan Working Group will support the development of the National Soil Action Plan, while the Incentives and Extension Consultative Group will advise the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) on elements of the design and roll out of the Soil Monitoring and Incentives Pilot and Extension Services programs.

Branding refresh and website update

Welcome to our new look website. We have updated our well-recognised Soils for Life brand and spring-cleaned our website ready to bring you more relevant and up-to-date information about regenerative agriculture and soil health.

Soils for Life podcast

While we can’t come out to run field days or workshops due to COVID restrictions, we have been busy with the virtual equivalent. The Soils for Life podcast series will be hitting your favourite podcast app this week. This is the first in our exciting new monthly podcast series about a wide range of topics on farming and soil health. Our first podcast is on soil carbon and the soil carbon market. Next month we will talk about compost.

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