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.

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.