Development of a Soil Health Policy Framework for Victoria, Australia.
Michael C. Crawford1, Mark Allaway2, and Melva Ryan2. (1) Primary Industries Research Victoria (PIRVic), Department of Primary Industries,, Bendigo Centre, PO Box 3100,, Bendigo DC, Victoria, 3554, Australia, (2) Agriculture Industry Policy, Department of Primary Industries,, GPO Box 4440,, Melbourne, Victoria, 3001, Australia
In Australia, state governments have responsibility for overseeing land management issues. In 2003, a Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry was initiated through the Environment and Natural Resources Committee into soil acidity (ENRC 2004, www.parliament.vic.gov.au/enrc). Whilst soil acidity is a natural phenomenon in parts of Victoria, it is being exacerbated through soil acidification brought about by inappropriate land management and primary production practices. Many soil scientists in Victoria gave 'evidence' at hearings of the inquiry. This was a new experience for many in that the knowledge of the scientists was interrogated in a very different manner to which scientists usually experience within their normal peer review process. One outcome of the inquiry was the recognition that soil acidity and soil acidification was just one of a number of soil health issues in Victoria, and along with soil fertility, structural decline, erosion, loss of organic matter and salinisation, it needed to be addressed in an integrated manner. The inquiry therefore has been a catalyst for the development of a soil health policy framework to guide further government investment in research, development, extension and regulation in relation to soils. The purpose of this framework has been to contribute to a broader understanding of soil health issues within the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, across agencies and in the wider community, to enable actions to be taken to manage soil health in an ongoing sustainable way. The framework has been developed through consultation with policymakers, scientists and advisers, and with stakeholders within the community, including farmers, conservationists, fertiliser industries and regional natural resource management agencies. he framework has been designed to provide an enabling environment rather than a prescriptive one. In practice, this means that government will aim to achieve soil health outcomes of wide benefit through providing land managers with the knowledge, tools and choices to improve soil health, rather than by legislation or directive. This approach has provided both an opportunity and a challenge for the soil science community in Victoria. Having a sound policy basis for government investment in soil health has strengthened the argument for securing research and extension funding in this area. This is analogous to the New Zealand experience where investment in soils research has been dependent upon having a well developed land management policy (Clothier 2004, www.regional.org.au/au/asssi/supersoil2004/keynote/clothier.htm). The challenge for soil scientists is to deliver knowledge and tools that are relevant and accessible to land managers to enable them to achieve soil health outcomes of wide benefit. The framework has provided a forum to highlight the importance of soils in the delivery of ecosystems services to Victorians, and the need to manage and protect soils so that they continue to deliver these services. In turn, the onus has been on soil scientists to inform policymakers in an appropriate manner so that sound, evidence-based policy can be developed. The Victorian experience of the last two years has led to a greater partnership between soil scientists and policymakers which has been mutually beneficial, and will hopefully lead to enhanced environmental, economic and social outcomes based on improved soil management.