No. 13 EAAA | December 2012

Welcome to the World Soils Day Special Edition!

World Soils Day is here again! We begin our special Ecological Agriculture Australia Association World Soils Day edition echoing the intent of the day itself: to promote soils and conserve them. We hand over some some diverse soil links and stories that you can connect with, in fact you might call this a resource of soils knowledge rather than a newsletter!  Enjoy and pass it on!  

Adrianna Marchand

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

~ Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

World Soil Day, Did You Know?

The 5th of December marks the birthday of the king of Thailand. What has this to do with soil? I am glad you asked! To pay respects to the king’s promotion of soil science and soils resources conservation, in 2002 the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) made a resolution to propose this very day World Soils Day. The momentum has gathered and continues to do so, as the IUSS continues to initiate various ways in which to celebrate soils. “World Soil Day will be used to advocate the use and need of soils for human survival and its sustainable management. We aim to draw more attention for the natural resource on which all life depends: the soil!” (British Society of Soil Science.)   Enjoy World Soils Day!

Appointment of Soils Advocate

Former governor-general Michael Jeffery (also the Soils For Life Chairman), in October became Australia’s first official Advocate for Soils.  Julia Gillard told (at) the National Farmers Federation congress in Canberra, that developing a national soil health strategy was a top priority. You can revisit this announcement by following the Soils For Life link here.


We know about Landare, but what about SoilCare?  SoilCare is an association of primary producers and others on the North Coast of NSW with special interests in soil processes. The aim of SoilCare is to provide: a means for primary producers and others to access and share current information on sustainable soil management practices from around the world, an organisation with the ability to seek funding for educational seminars and workshops on topics identified by members, opportunities to join informative field trips both at home and abroad, a movement to address soil issues of sustainability and productivity to   promote secure livelihoods and vigorous communities.  Go to the SoilCare website for a vast array of information, articles and resources.

Undercover Farmers for Soil Health

A fantastic video about understanding soils from a systems function perspective in relation to the importance of diverse ground cover.  Soil ecology and biology is discussed by farmers and practitioners using a number of key principles.  We really encourage you take the time to watch this feature length on Undercover Farmers by following this YouTube link.

Soils For Life

The Soils for Life program supports innovative farmers and land managers demonstrating high performance in regenerative landscape management. We believe their stories are compelling and can provide confidence for those who want to make a change for the better. Outcomes Australia’s Soils for Life Program is an environmental non-profit, non-government organisation with the principal purpose of enhancing Australia’s natural environment with a focus on the Australian rural landscape. The Soils for Life Chairman is Major General Michael Jeffery (Retd), and the Board comprises representatives from the land, finance, media, business, politics and research. Healthy soil is fundamental to biosystem functioning and you can find out more from the Australian Soils For Life website.

That’s One Small Step for Apps and One Giant Leap for Soil Science

SoilMapp is the first CSIRO developed App and gives users information on soil type, acidity, water holding capacity, soil carbon, soil depth and many other characteristics.  Users of iPads can download the App by going to the CSIRO website and the App will be available from the iTunes Store soon (pending release at time of publising this newsletter, but keep an eye out).  This promises to a great educational resource and will surely get people talking about soils!

Global Soil Partnership

The Global Soil Partnership supports the process leading to the adoption of sustainable development goals for soils. It will equally contribute to human wellbeing and social equity through improved use and governance of soil resources, finding alternatives to soil degrading practices through participatory experiential processes, and being sensitive to issues of gender and rights of indigenous peoples. In order to achieve these objectives, the GSP addresses five main pillars of action which you can read about by following this Link.

Soil School, Transfering the Passion for Learning and Soils

Teaching the basics, and beyond, of soil health to farmers in the Pacific is a life’s passion for Mike Smith. He and his wife Cheryl have devoted themselves to making a lasting difference to the farming practices of small-scale landowners in places such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga by teaching sustainable farming essentials at Soil Schools.  These Soil Schools and the progress of Organic Matters Foundation (OMF) is certainly eye catching for its education models and advocacy of healthy soils, food and communities.


Soilduck originated in 2010 from a desire to make soil science more available and accessible advocating for open access and soils education. Soilduck has two Editors (Jess and Nathan) and a range of Authors from around the globe! Soilduck aims to share cool, interesting and informative information on soil science and life straight from the experts mouth. Do go to the Soilduck site where you can dig into the Blog, share your soil photos, link in with other soil sites and take part in a ‘dirty revolution’.

Call for Action on Soils to the World

Australian scientist Professor Ravi Naidu, the winner of an international soil science prize, has called for Australia to lead a renewed global effort to reverse the alarming degradation and contamination of the world’s food producing soils. Read about Ravi’s work and an important message in this link to the article.

NASA Rover Analyses First Soil Samples on Mars

Detection of the substances during this early phase of the mission demonstrates the laboratory’s capability to analyse diverse soil and rock samples over the next two years.  Mars Curiosity rover has used its full array of instruments to analyse Martian soil for the first time, and found a complex chemistry. Want to know what Rover found? Go to the NASA JPL website.

RoundUp Points to Unhealthy Soil

The heavy use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide appears to be causing harmful changes in soil and superweeds. Read the article here following this link.

Soils for Salmon

What on earth is Soils for Salmon? A great initiative we want to tell you about, with ground-up local focus leading back to soil and salmon health. The simple soil “best management practices” (BMPs) described at the Soil for Salmon website include preserving site topsoil and vegetation where possible, reducing compaction, and amending disturbed soils with compost to restore healthy soil functions.  Following the link above will take you to other related websites.  Go fish!

Soil Secrets:  Soil Biology Special on ABC Landline

Recently a great feature aired on ABC Landline Program on the secrets of soil, covering the soil biology revolution.  We can provide you with a link to the transcript and footage here.  More than worth visiting and if you missed it, a recommend!

Feed Your Soil and the Rest Will Follow

Why does the approach of “We try to have something growing 24-seven, 365 days a year… I want a living root in the ground at all times” equate to a soil ecosystem approach?  Read more about innovative practices that result in healthy soil following this link.

Soil Critters Offer Food Secutity

“Soil is not an empty container, as thought by agriculturists; land is a living organism and has to be valued as such”.  Worms and termites are not likely to win hearts and minds, but they, along with lichens and microbes, are vital to food security, say biodiversity specialists.

Soil Physical Properties 101

Follow the link to get a good introductory handle on soil physical properties.

Soil Carbon as Universal Measure of Sustainability

A vast resource on soil and the biochar for your perusal.  The conversation continues and this article offers the historical perspective through to current endorsements of soil practices for your consideration.  Do read on at this link.

Glomalin in the Soil Carbon Story

We encourage you to get your head around the glomalin soil carbon story by following the link to this full article. “A sticky protein seems to be the unsung hero of soil carbon storage. Until its discovery in 1996 by ARS soil scientist Sara F. Wright, this soil “super glue” was mistaken for an unidentifiable constituent of soil organic matter. Rather, it permeates organic matter, binding it to silt, sand, and clay particles. Not only does glomalin contain 30 to 40 percent carbon, but it also forms clumps of soil granules called aggregates. These add structure to soil and keep other stored soil carbon from escaping.”

Scoop on Soil: Learning Resource

Kid or kid at heart?  Get the Scoop on Soil at this website.  Although a US published site, it holds some great resources for young ones to get them playing in the dirt.

Soil Biology Key to Fertility

Focusing on soil health was not only good for the environment, but makes economic sense. “If you are not looking after your underground workforce, it will cost you in fertiliser use and retention, erosion control, sedimentation and water quality” says Nicole Masters, soil health and soil ecology educator. Read about Nicole’s approach to soils by following this link.

Soil to Sky

An infographic of Soil to Sky is brought to you through the Sustainable Cities Collective website featuring an article on ‘Feeding the World Sustainably: Agroecology vs. Industrial Agriculture’.

Researchers Find Microbes Accelerate Soil Carbon Loss

New research from scientists at the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University suggests that the loss of carbon from soils in response to climate change could be accelerated by unexpected responses of soil-inhabiting microorganisms. Read more at Phys.Org or the University of Wyoming websites.

Scientists Revisit Key Carbon Allies:  Soil and Plants

Breaking the modelling mould of the carbon story, has focussed on plants on the move, in response to climate change.  The conversation between plant folk and soil folk is imperative to an ecological approach to planet health.  “Recent studies indicate assumptions about plants and soils capacity in the so-called “carbon cycle” may be overly optimistic. If these studies are correct, even bigger cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will be needed to prevent drastic, irreparable climate shifts.”  Following on another study is introduced “plants won’t be the major carbon sinks many had hoped, for a different reason: Soils often don’t have enough nitrogen and phosphorus to take advantage of the added CO2 in the atmosphere”. Read more in this recent article. EAAA encourage a whole system ecological approach to any discipline.

Saline, Sodic or Both?

One key issue is to get farmers and others to distinguish between salinity and sodicity.  Sodicity is an entirely different chemistry issue than salinity and soil testing can distinguish the two.  “You can’t treat salinity and sodicity the same,” Wick tells her audience. “You may have salinity and sodicity existing at the same time, but once that salinity is leached — the calcium and magnesium salts, they leach first — then the sodium sticks behind and attaches to the clays and you may have a sodicity problem.”  Read more as US NDSU soil science team tackles saline, sodic soils.

USGS: US Geological Society

The US Geological Society (USGS) has some really good educational resources for kids of primary school age, through to undergraduates.  Break into online lectures, videos and presentations, social media and other resouces by visiting the USGS website.

IUSS on Soils: Earth’s Living Skin

“We build on soil, as well as in it and with it. And it’s not all the same out there! The abundance of life, habitats, and opportunities for human occupation mirror the tremendous variety of soils that are the Earth’s living skin… Different kinds of soil are spread across different landscapes – not randomly but in predictable patterns first identified 125 years ago by pioneering Russian pedologist Vasiliy Dokuchaev (1846-1903) as functions of parent material, climate, relief and living organisms acting over time – or, as he put it, the “age of the landscape”. From the IUSS website, follow this Link to download the Brochure.

Soil: Our Common Ground – A Humanities Perspective by Rebecca Lines-Kelly

If there is one thing you ought to consider compulsory reading in this special edition, it is Rebecca’s writing (Reference) on soil and society presented as a keynote address at the 3rd Australian New Zealand Soils Conference in 2004. “The story of soil is essentially the story of humanity” begins Rebecca for whom, “soil was not just brown stuff that held up plants, it was actually a metaphor life”.

Dirt the Movie

If you have not seen Dirt: the Movie, have a look at the organisations web site and the other Dirty books and movies on offer. It is a recommend. Download the trailer for Dirt: The Movie, which “tells the story of Earth’s most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility, from its miraculous beginning to its crippling degradation.”

Soils, The Whole Story

Soil Stories was born out of a collaborative effort in the US and is a must watch for those interested in dirt. Just a bit less than half an hour well spent getting to know soil. Watch it via this link.

Meet Australian Ecological Farmers and Their Healthy Soil

The Ecological Agriculture Australia Association is putting you in touch with ecological minded agricultural farmers and practitioners through their Ecopedia. Here are some ecological practices used by farmers featured on the EAAA web site: works with the weeds and sees them as indicator plants that tell their story about the soil, stopped using herbicides, recognizing that humans are one of the many organisms on the farm and interactions caused by land management practices are considered important, trials and monitoring of bio stimulants and inoculants, pasture resting time, enhancing native grassland communities and protection of endangered species and communities, trial methods and see which work best in the local region, observation and awareness of what connects the farmer to the land, enriching community networks, long term financial sustainability, production of healthy food, value to the beauty and aesthetic of farm life, sharing learning and resilience, the context of being primarily a “soil farmer”.

Soils Are Alive

For those interested in the living aspects of soil, here is a link to a free online book by Lyn Abbott.

A Soil Biology Primer

From the Natural Resources Conservation Service:  “The creatures living in the soil are critical to soil quality. They affect soil structure and therefore soil erosion and water availability. They can protect crops from pests and diseases. They are central to decomposition and nutrient cycling and therefore affect plant growth and amounts of pollutants in the environment. Finally, the soil is home to a large proportion of the world’s genetic diversity.”   Want to read more about soil biology or the soil foodweb?

I Heart Soil – The Story of Soil

This site is a favourite and scratches the surface of some of the amazing science behind soil and soil ecosystems. It contains some information about food and soil, soil and human health, and soil and water quality. It also has additional resources to dig deeper into soil science. “Soil is made of life and soil makes life.”

Saving the Life of Farmland Soils

Although this dates back a number of years, the discussions in this newsletter are still relevant today. The role and importance of organic matter in soils, in reversing and repairing the trend of soil management that has reduced the viability of agricultural soil and surrounding natural systems is explored.  Read on.

Soil Quality, What Does It Look Like?

If you want to get a start on assessing your own soil, The Natural Resources Conservation Service (US) has great resources to help you get started. “Soil quality cannot be measured directly, so we evaluate indicators. Indicators are measurable properties of soil or plants that provide clues about how well the soil can function. Indicators can be physical, chemical, and biological properties, processes, or characteristics of soils. They can also be morphological or visual features of plants.” See more here.

Visual Soil Assessment

New Zealand Landcare Research brings some soil assessment tools to the table.

Soil Health Card

This soil health card was developed for the Northern Rivers Region of NSW as an extension activity of the Good Soils Project, a joint undertaking of Tuckombil Landcare Inc and NSW Agriculture in partnership with the Natural Heritage Trust. If you intend to use the Soil Health Card, remember it was intended for a particular area in the Northern Rivers of NSW.

SOILpak for Southern Dryland Areas

The NSW Department of Primary Industries SOILpak series aims to provide a range of best soil management practices to optimise crop and pasture yields. Other SOILpak’s are available from the DPI web site for southern dryland areas, vegetable and cotton growers.

Confused about Soil Quality and Soil Characteristics?

Soil quality is a measure of a soil’s function and soil characteristics important to soil quality include measurable factors such as water holding capacity, texture, structure, colour, pH, balanced biotic relationships, salts present and types of salts, infiltration rates and organic matter. Read more here.

Soil Not Oil

Unwavering and truly visionary, the book “Soil Not Oil” proposes a solution based on self-organization, sustainability, and local community rather than corporate power and profits.

Soil Health

A must visit site for biological, chemical and physical soil.

Soil Science Society of America – The Story of Soil

A wonderful collection of Video’s on Health, Food Security and Water in relation to soil.

Soil Ecology Society

The Soil Ecology Society (SES) is an international organization of researchers, students, environmental professionals and others interested in the advancement and promotion of soil biology and ecology.

SAFS – Soil Ecology Soil Biology and Management

Choose to visit this web site to discover soil biology and soil ecology by the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SAFS) cluster.

What on Earth is…?

Pedology (from Greek pedon, “soil”; and logos, “study”) is the study of soils in their natural environment. Edaphology (from Greek “ground”) is concerned with the influence of soils on living things, particularly plants. Xenophon (431–355 BC), and Cato (234–149 BC), were early edaphologists. Wikipedia informs us that Xenophon noted the effect of turning a cover crop into the earth. Cato, who skillfully recorded capitalist farming of his day, wrote “De Agri Cultura” (“On Farming”) which recommended tillage, crop rotation and the use of legumes in the rotation to build soil nitrogen. He also devised the first soil capability classification for specific crops.

Soils Contribute Greatly to Recognised Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem Services are generally acknowledged as the benefits that humans receive from the natural environment, to some extent this is promoted as a relatively one way street. Soils contribute strongly, both directly as well as indirectly, to satisfying these human needs. The ecological viewpoint extends this – to soil providing mutual benefits to our interconnected and complex environment including the biotic and abiotic in an interdependent interaction, a relationship. To view soils as a resource is to view soils as utilitarian, but only for as long as they are used within their capabilities without compromising soil health. To view soils as a living organism is to understand that what we do to soil, we do to ourselves.

Working Miracles with Nature

A website dedicated to the open dissemination of knowledge and theories for working with nature, literally “From The Soil Up” – from below the ground through to our bodies and beyond!

Soil Stories from Australia

Department of Sustainability and Environment (Vic) Newsletter highlighting soils.

Saltland Genie ™

This Australian initiative provides links to learn more about salinity; explore solutions and tap into resources such as farmer stories, interviews, case studies, reports and ID cards. Have a look at Genie’s library.

It takes a community of soil microbes

New research reveals that it takes a community of soil microbes, not just one or two, to protect crops.

Organic Soil Fertility

Interested in knowing more about soil management including how to manage fertility on organic farms and how to soil test and use nutrient budgeting. The following article as printed in The Canadian Journal of Organics explains. Read on.

The Art and Science of Composting

This article covers best practices of composting and summarises well the art and science of decomposition by human intervention. For anyone considering composting as part of their practice this is a good read. Follow the link and you will get a load of it.

Bugs and Biology Grower Group

A group of Western Australia land managers in a learning environment, discovering connections between land management practices impacting on soil interactions and condition, where ecological profit and monetary profit co-exist.

NZ Landcare Research on Soils and Landscapes and the Newsletter

Research on soils and landscapes and the NZ Landcare Research Newsletter, both not only a great resource but a good read.

Painting with Soil—Jan Lang’s Images of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Soils have inspired some like Jan to art. Jan shares her images of the Lewis and Clark expedition taking us on a visual journey of her connection with soil andteaches us how to make paint out of soil.

Soils Portal

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Survey Division is the lead agency for the National Cooperative Soil Survey (NCSS), a joint effort of Federal US and State agencies, universities, and professional societies. The NCSS is committed to delivering science-based soils information that helps people be good stewards of the Nation’s soil, water, and related natural resources.

Soil and Water Conservation Society

For SAWCS, “Our mission is to foster the science and art of natural resource conservation. Our work targets conservation of soil, water, and related natural resources on working land—the land used to produce food, fiber, and other services that improve the quality of life people experience in rural and urban communities. We work to discover, develop, implement, and constantly improve ways to use land that sustains its productive capacity and enhances the environment at the same time.”

Soils Under the Microscope

Discover the dynamic interaction between the skies to the earth; the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and lithosphere in a new way, under the microscope.This presentation covers micromorphology, the study of soil description and interpretation at the microscopic level.

Permaculture Research Institute of Australia

On soil by Craig Mackintosh: “You could simplify its composition by reducing it to four main components: minerals, air, water, and organic matter. The complicated version, however, is almost beyond belief, and despite the best efforts of scientists many aspects remain mysterious”.

Benefits of a Healthy Soil FoodWeb

Read about what a healthy soil foodweb is, when it occurs and what functions it performs.

Australian Society of Soil Science – About Soil

“Soils are a vital part of the natural environment. They are complex entities, and many different types occur in Australia. The different properties of soils influence the types of flora and fauna that exist on them, and the ways in which we may use them.”  The Australian Society of Soil Science is our national body representing soil scientists and practitioners.

Certified Professional Soil Scientist Core Competencies for Australian Soil Surveyors

For more information, please read on to this comprehensive set of guidelines for soil surveyors.

New Zealand Society of Soil Science

Formed in 1952 the New Zealand Society of Soil Science was formed to encourage the advancement of soil science.

Australia Soil Resource Information System (ASRIS)

ASRIS provides online access to the best publicly available information on soil and land resources in a consistent format across Australia.

Applied Soil Ecology – Elsevier

Applied Soil Ecology Journal resource.

American Society of Agronomy CSA Newsletter

American Society of Agronomy CSA Newsletter “Soils Still a Frontier of Science

Dirtland: The Root Cellar

Read more on this educational resource.

Dig It!

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has a number of educational resources for kids and kids at heart. Take a look, this is so much fun.

Dig Deeper!

OK, so a bit more for the kids that heart soil from the Soil Science Society of America.

Dr Dirt

Educational resource for use in schools including Dr Dirt’s own You Tube channel.

NASA on Soil

Soil, soil science, and the soil’s role in our everyday lives care of NASA. 

Soil and Water

Department of Natural Resources Management and Environment on soils. 

Acid sulphate soils

Acid sulphate soil (ASS) is the common name given to soils and sediments containing iron sulphides. When exposed to air due to drainage or disturbance, these soils produce sulphuric acid, often releasing toxic quantities of iron, aluminium and heavy metals.

Soil Ecology at University of Adelaide

The course will provide students with a comprehensive view of ecological interactions in soils. It deals with the interactions between plants, soil and soil organisms, the roles played by soil organisms in decomposition of organic material, nutrient cycling (C, N, P) and stability of agricultural and natural ecosystems. Other topics include the importance of soil organisms for soil fertility, mycorrhizas and their effects on plant productivity and plant communities, soil microbial ecology, root growth, the biology of the rhizosphere and the impact of climate change on nutrient cycling.”

University of Queensland on Agriculture and Soils, Resource Kit on Soils

The Resource Kit.

Soil Glossary Resources

The Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have produced a number of valuable resources on the soil front such as this Soil Glossary.

Soil Science Society of America has a search engine based glossary of soil science terms.

The Australian Academy of Science leads to some definitions on sodic soils.

The Soil Foodweb Reference Guide has some great photographs of fungi, bacteria, protozoa, nematodes and mycorrhizal fungi.

A collection of biological and ecological definitions from UWA.

The Challenge

We end our special Ecological Agriculture Australia Association World Soils Day edition reflecting on the intent of the day itself, and where to next?
In talking about soil, we are involved in seeing how we can know and interact with soil better: to represent the interconnections which result in vital and alive soil and food and communities, to be able to observe changes on our farms & with a primary aim of being able to pass on this knowledge and act upon it, to attempt to provide legitimacy to soil assessment and provide direction for future research, to learn from each other and allow soil and our environment to be our teacher. We want to build a strong network of people interested in soil from ecological perspectives, we want to see farmers talking to farmers about their dirt. In a way, we know you are already out there; whether you have seen, felt, tasted, smelt or heard soil or are just curious about those millions of organisms in a teaspoon of soil.

Those interconnections? The ultimate aim is to explore further and deeper the interactions of soil biology, with already widely studied soil structure and chemistry as a springboard to understanding more deeply, greater connections to biotic and abiotic environments. We can begin there and then learn to further observe greater interactions that involve plants, animals, weather (the list may be vast indeed yet it has already begun!).

Soil science is still a relatively new thing and we have much business to go about in learning about soil systems. Meanwhile, the study of soil biology is still grossly under represented at university level and the subject of soils is underdone in a great many university degrees, which lead to occupations in environment and natural resources no less! Moreover, as has been the feedback from many landholders, the scientific community still struggles to communicate effectively with farmers what are really common aims:  improved soils knowledge, healthier soils communities, more resilient farms. The art of observation itself is not widely promoted, yet is vital to this whole conversation.

Interdisciplinary approaches are still in their infancy although strengthening in leaps and bounds and the translation of systems thinking beyond society and sociology itself, shows a challenge to the way we can approach country. The type of ecological approach needed to connect people with the land and soils again, requires that we learn what it might be, to be ecological in our very thinking. So the thought comes to mind, that it is necessary to approach natural/soil ecology together with human ecology; that is, to acknowledge the interconnected place we humans have in the natural world. For us, this may mean reconnecting with that which has sustained us all our lives, soil.

There is much to get excited about! Whether it be a soil pit, a sweet smelling soil, one farmer teaching another about practices, celebrating a community garden, sitting in the shed talking about a great field day or a vibrant healthy soil; we can all step outside and take the first look to see soil for the first time, to see it in a way we have not seen it before.

We challenge you to observe the soil on your farm, in your garden, around your neighbourhood or your compost and continue to observe this for a year. With the next 12 months approaching into December 2013, write to us and share what you have seen, the changes, and your story. Happy digging and please email us your stories and links!

Warm regards,

Adrianna Marchand

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