The National Committee on Soil Terrain (NCST) has provided national leadership and technical coordination for matters relating to soil and terrain since its establishment in 1992.
Soil and land survey programs were most active and effective during the Accelerated Program of Land Resource Assessment in the Decade of Landcare (1990-2000). A complex set of factors led to a reduction of effort over the next 15 years. The soil management challenges facing Australia are large (e.g. SOE 2011) and there is a clear need for much better information on the condition and trends in the status of Australia’s soil resources. Some renewal of the survey, monitoring and complementary RD&E activities is essential.
The NCST addressed this issue by preparing a key input to the Soil RD&E Strategy – a report outlining the proposed Australian Soil Assessment Program (ASAP) (Attachment 1). This report has not been officially published although there is considerable benefit in distributing it to a wider audience than those directly involved in the development of the Soil RD&E Strategy.
The ASAP proposal provides a comprehensive plan for reengineering the national soil information infrastructure so that it can provide the required data and information to regularly assess the condition of soils and their responses to land management across Australia.
The NCST estimated that full implementation of ASAP required an ongoing annual investment of $99.7m to support seven streams of nationally coordinated and regionally delivered activities. This investment has the potential to generate large benefits worth at least $2 billion per annum by 2020. These benefits arise primarily from:
- increases in agricultural productivity (potentially $2–4 billion per year)
- avoidance of costs in other soil dependent industries (potentially hundreds of millions of dollars per year)
- equally large societal and ecosystem-service benefits associated with better soil and land management.
While some of the required investment may come from better coordination of current soil research and development expenditure, a significant new investment is required to revitalise and upgrade the current national soil information infrastructure.