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The relationships between land management practices and soil condition and the quality of ecosystem services delivered from agricultural land in Australia






September 2012

About Kiri-ganai research:

Kiri-ganai Research Pty Ltd is a Canberra based company that undertakes consultancy and analytical studies concerned with environmental policy, industry performance, natural resource management and sustainable agriculture. Our strength is in turning knowledge gained from public policy, markets, business operations, science, and research into ideas, options, strategies and response plans for industries, governments, communities and businesses.

Kiri-ganai Research Pty Ltd


ph: +62 2 62956300 fax: +61 2 62327727


This project was funded by the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country initiative.

Project team

This project was managed by Kiri-ganai Research Pty Ltd. The main writing team comprised Steven Cork (EcoInsights), Pauline Mele (Victorian Department of Primary Industries), Laura Eadie (Centre for Policy Development), Don Yule (CTF Solutions) and Richard Price (Kiri-ganai Research). This team was guided by four expert advisers: Anna Roberts, Neil Byron, Geoff Gorrie and Barry White.


The project team gratefully acknowledges the contribution made to the project by members of the Australian Government Land and Coasts Division, and in particular Science Adviser, Dr Michele Barson.


Considerable care has been taken to ensure that the information contained in this report is reliable and that the conclusions reflect considerable professional judgment. Kiri-ganai Research Pty Ltd, however, does not guarantee that the report is without flaw or is wholly appropriate for all purposes and, therefore, disclaims all liability for any loss or other consequence which may arise from reliance on any information contained herein.


Executive summary vii

Questions addressed vii

Key conclusions vii

Benefits and beneficiaries from better soil management viii

1. Project rationale and approach 1

1.1 Rationale 1

1.2 Approach 1

2. Soils: the essential asset 4

2.1 Soils, life and human interaction 4

2.2 Living soils and determinants of soil condition 4

2.3 Soils and systems 5

3. Linking management practices, soil quality and ecosystem services 7

3.1 The concept of ecosystem services 7

3.2 Ecosystem services and management practice 8

4. Soil Carbon 9

4.1 Nature of the issues 9

4.2 Impacts of agriculture and measures that could build Soil Organic Carbon 10

4.3 Evidence of the efficacy of practices to increase soil organic carbon 17

5. Soil pH 21

5.1 Nature of the issues 21

5.2 Impacts of agriculture and measures that could arrest soil acidification 22

5.3 Evidence of the efficacy of practices to increase soil pH 29

5.4 Concluding remarks 32

6. Wind erosion 34

6.1 Nature of the issues 34

6.2 Land management practices in relation to wind erosion 35

6.3 Evidence of the effectiveness of management practices for reducing wind erosion 37

7. Water erosion 40

7.1 Nature of the issues 40

7.2 Land management practices in relation to water erosion 42

7.3 Evidence of the effectiveness of management practices for reducing water erosion 44

8. Ecosystem services and resilience of soils 50

8.1 The concept of ecosystem services 50

8.2 Relating soil ecosystem processes to services and benefits 52

8.3 How better management for soil carbon, pH and erosion might affect ecosystem services 61

8.4 Resilience of soils and associated ecosystems 66

9. Private and public benefits of soils and soil management 74

9.1 Introduction 74

9.2 What is the nature of benefits from improving agricultural soil condition? 74

9.3 Who benefits from improving agricultural soil condition? 75

9.4 How significant might these benefits be? 76

9.5 How might Australia realise these benefits? Examples through case studies 84

9.6 General findings 99

10. Summary and conclusions 102

10.1 Improving the organic matter status of soils 102

10.2 Improving the pH (acid-bases balance) of soils 104

10.3 Minimising erosion of soils by wind 106

10.4 Minimising erosion of soils by water 107

10.5 improvements in the quantity and quality of ecosystem services and benefits delivered from agricultural lands 109

10.6 Summary 111

References 113


4.1. List of critical functions of soil C 9

4.2 Dairy pasture management options to conserve soil carbon 15

5.1 Options for management of soil acidity and feasibility in permanent and mixed grazing systems 25

8.1: Description of the broad groups of ecosystem services provided by soils 49

8.2: Example of the beneficiaries of soil ecosystem services 53

8.3: Conclusions from this report about the effectiveness of management practices in Australian agricultural lands 55

8.4: Ways in which actions to address soil condition are likely to affect soil processes and ecosystem services 56

9.1: Gross value of agricultural production 66

9.2: Existing estimates of the value of costs or benefits related to land management practice (footnotes explained at end of table) 69

9.3: Full range of benefits and beneficiaries – Reducing soil erosion in broadacre cropping 76

9.4: Full range of benefits and beneficiaries – Managing acid soils in broadacre cropping 79

9.5: Full range of benefits and beneficiaries – Increasing soil carbon in irrigated horticulture 82

9.6: Full range of benefits and beneficiaries – Reducing wind erosion in grazing areas 86

10.1: Ecosystem services from soils and the benefits potentially derived 96


4.1: Crop management practice and relationship with expected Soil Organic Carbon levels and benefits 11

6.1: Erosion rates in relation to ground cover when four different wind speeds were applied to lupin residues 34

7.1: Factors influencing soil erosion by water. Figure was derived from various publications cited in the text 37

7.2: Generalised relationship between ground cover and annual average soil loss from vertisol soils on the Darling Downs, Queensland 42

8.1: Conceptual relationship between land management, soil structures and processes, ecosystem services, benefits to humans and human wellbeing 47

8.2: Interrelationships between living and non-living components of soils 48

8.3: Two generalised assessments of differences in ecosystem services from ‘natural’ ecosystems and agricultural land 52

9.1: Who benefits, where and when? 67

9.2: Example of output from the acidity relative yield model for four plant tolerance classes within a given Al/Mn solubility class 77


Box S1: An example of benefits from better management of soil condition x

Box 4.1: Managing soil C through a systems approach 18

Box 5.1: Managing soil pH through a systems approach 29

Box 6.1: Managing wind erosion through a systems approach 35

Box 7.1: The Gascoyne Catchment – A Case Study of Water Erosion 41

Box 7.2: Managing water erosion through a systems approach 44

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