No. 7 EAAA | December 2011

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. Below are some diverse soil links and stories that you can connect with.

“The only remedy for disconnecting people from the natural world is connecting them to it again.”

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. World Soil Day. Viewed 5th December 2011).


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”.


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”. Do read on.


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

“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 scratches the surface about 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.


“Ecological Soil Assessment Guidelines – Join in the Discussion”

A stimulating project was recently conceived in collaboration with the Ecological Agriculture Australia Association (EAAA). The discussion around observable ecological change on farm and resulting from land management practices was soon followed by a conversation about soils. The questions of “what would ecological soil assessment look like, what indicators would be used?” gave rise to the need to have a dialogue about ecological soil assessment and the development of guidelines that can capture ecological practices and that are useful to farmers. Do you have any ideas? You are invited to participate in the discussion or if you would like more information email Adrianna here. IUSS asks “Where should we expand our [soils] knowledge base for the greatest benefit to society and the environment?” The Project aims to speak to this in terms of ecological soil approaches and build upon recognised work so far.

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.


Soilduck Blog

Jess Drake (AKA Soilduck), is a soil scientist by day and pantry chef by night. Soilduck aims to share cool ideas and facts on soil, environment, backyard soil, mining and science life in Australia, without any affiliations.


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.”


Bachelor of Ecological Agricultural Systems at Charles Sturt University

CSU’s Bachelor of Ecological Agricultural Systems places an emphasis on people and their perceptions and how these impact on the natural world. The course takes natural and social ecology as its foundation stone and develops applied scientific and management approaches to working with people and nature. The course is structured around four foundational principles: ecological thinking, ecological ethics, ecological literacy, ecological practice. Student gain ecological knowledge and skills and then learn how to apply this ‘ecological thinking’ to the management of farming, grazing and related agricultural systems with holistic approaches to situation improvement.  Sourced from CSU.


The National Environment Centre TAFE Program

The National Environment Centre is a specialist TAFE College, part of the Riverina Institute of TAFE. This campus includes a 190 hectare certified organic farm, which is run on agro-ecology principles. A motto on the farm is “Our plants and animals don’t do drugs”. If you have an opportunity to visit the farm or attend the courses, do so and let us know of your experience.


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 and the translation of systems thinking beyond society and sociology itself shows weak links to the way we 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 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 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 2012, 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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