Production

Survey shows steady improvement in land management practices

Jon Condon, 23/04/2013

 

Almost 80 percent of Australian livestock producers now regularly monitor ground-cover levels on their land, new survey data released by the Federal Government yesterday has shown.

The proportion of beef and sheep producers monitoring groundcover has increased from 70pc in 2008 to 79 pc by 2010, suggesting noticeable improvements are being made in the way Australia’s productive lands are being managed.

The results – published as a series of fact sheets for each state/territory (grazing sector versions for which are accessible at the base of this page) shows good progress is being made across the nation.

However there was room for further room for improvement in some areas. In 2010, between 13 and 23pc of farmers and graziers were actively managing soil acidification, in some cases down on participation levels in 2007-08.

The survey work was carried out under the Federal Government’s ‘Caring for our Country’ natural resource management initiative which funds projects in the sustainable practices national priority area under the improving management practices and landscape scale conservation targets.

These projects provide information to farmers in the broadacre cropping, dairy, horticulture and beef cattle/sheep industries about land management practices that will help improve soil condition and contribute to maintaining a healthy environment.

Project funding provided by Caring for our Country is used to encourage farmers and graziers to better manage ground cover by monitoring the proportion of the soil covered by plants and using minimum level targets. On more intensively managed southern holdings, the program also promotes testing and liming soils regularly, complementing the activities of state agencies industry and community groups.

Data from the 2007-08 and 2009-10 ABS surveys and earlier agricultural censuses for 1995-96 and 2000-01 helped track trends in the adoption of these practices.

“The data in all states suggests that more grazing businesses are monitoring ground cover. Depending on location, ground cover levels of at least 50-70pc are needed to protect the soil surface from wind and water erosion,” the report found. Further work was needed, however, to encourage grazing businesses to set and manage to ground cover targets appropriate to their location.

 

Managing soil acidity

Given the extensive and insidious nature of soil acidification, there may also be a need to increase regular testing and, where necessary, liming of more intensively managed pastures in some regions, the report found.

About 21pc of Australia's more intensively managed grazing land is thought to have a high risk of soil acidification, with a further 17pc classified as carrying a moderate risk and 63pc, a low risk.

Very acid soils are unlikely to support good ground cover, increasing the risk of soil loss through wind and/or water erosion and reducing input to soil carbon. Areas at high risk are where the soil pH is currently low, the soil has a low capacity to buffer against pH decreases, and the dominant (current and/or past) agricultural practices are highly acidifying.

For more intensively managed holdings in areas with soils prone to acidification, regular testing of soil pH and applications of lime and/or dolomite can be used to manage acidification. Testing soil nutrient levels to better match fertiliser applications to pasture requirements can also help slow soil acidification.

Between 2007-08 and 2009-10, the percentage of businesses outside the rangelands testing soil pH decreased from 20pc to 17pc, and the percentage testing soil nutrients decreased from 19pc to 16pc.

The percentage of businesses outside the rangelands applying lime and/or dolomite to their holdings to manage soil acidity also decreased from 14 to 13pc between 2007-08 and 2009-10.

Agricultural census data for all businesses irrespective of location indicate that 9 and 12pc of businesses grazing beef cattle applied lime and/or dolomite in 1995-96 and 2000-01 respectively, suggesting that the numbers of grazing businesses using lime has not changed greatly over the last 15 years.

 

 

Click your respective State or Territory here to view your local land management fact sheet, and how trends may have changed:

 

Some ABS statistics:

On-farm practice change is being monitored using the biennial Australian Bureau of Statistics Agricultural Resource Management Survey, which surveys 33 000 of Australia's 135 000 agricultural businesses. Results are reported at the national, state and natural resource management region levels.

  • Nationally, the area of grazing land operated by beef cattle/sheep businesses was estimated to be more than 336 million hectares, or about 40pc of the continental landmass.
  • According to ABS estimates, in 2009-10 there were 88,945 beef cattle/sheep grazing businesses in Australia. Both the number of grazing businesses and the area of grazing land reported had decreased by around 4pc since the 2007-08 survey.
  • In 2009-10 the average age of managers of grazing businesses was 56; on average they had managed their holdings for 24 years and farmed in their local region for 31 years. An estimated 23pc of businesses had a Landcare group member.
  • The most extensive area of grazing is in the rangelands region, where 3211 businesses graze about 255 million hectares. The estimated 85 623 businesses grazing 81 million hectares outside the rangelands are generally smaller, more intensively managed properties.

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