Farmers, advisers and researchers’ perceptions of soil organic matter

Dr Nathan Robinson1, Assoc Prof Peter Dahlhaus1, Dr Megan Wong1, Jennifer Corbett1, Melissa Cann2, Rebecca Mitchell3, Diana Fear4, Dr Susan Orgill5

1Federation University, Mt Helen, Australia, 2Agriculture Victoria, Swan Hill, Australia, 3Agriculture Victoria, Epsom, Australia, 4Central West Farming Systems, Condobolin, Australia, 5NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wagga Wagga, Australia

There are many different actors (farmers, agronomists, consultants, industry representatives and researchers) influencing management decisions that underpin soil organic matter (SOM) levels and soil health. In 2018, three independent surveys were undertaken as part of the CRC for High Performance Soils (Soil CRC) that were individually focused on issues of: identifying grower perceptions on soil constraints to their farming system; perceptions of advisers and key industry personnel to soil constraints and production, and what data, information, tools and methods (indicators) are being used and collected by farmers, advisers and researchers. Survey 1 (Parsons et al., 2018) involved 111 participants from 19 grower groups (five states). Survey 2 (Orgill et al., 2018) included 135 respondents (advisers) of which 96 estimated that they were working with over 3,275 clients in 6 states. Survey 3 (Dahlhaus et al., 2018) attracted 122 respondents with farmers (38%), advisers (30%) and researchers (16%) being the major response groups of this survey. Survey 1 identified that over 50% of participants soil tested every 3-5 years and that organic matter (carbon) was the third most tested analyte at nearly 80% (only pH and available phosphorus were higher). Advisers in Survey 2 listed up to six constraints of greatest concern to their client, with low organic matter rated overall as having a very high priority (only acidity and nutrient decline/deficiency rated higher). Perceptions of the use of SOM to judge soil performance varied between farmers, advisers and researchers, with advisers less inclined than farmers and researchers to use organic matter in assessment of soil performance. 53% of respondents in Survey 3 used SOM observations on an annual basis or more frequent interval, as compared to soil moisture (70%), waterlogging and drainage (59%) respectively. The surveys collectively demonstrate similar sentiment on the importance of SOM for improved management decision making.


Nathan Robinson joined Federation University in 2017 after working in soil and landscape analysis with state government for 18 years. Nathan is a Senior Research Fellow and is on national committees for digital soil mapping and assessment and clay mineralogy. Nathan has published journal papers and book chapters on soil analysis, mapping, modelling and interpretation for use by land managers and has led many projects including ‘Understanding Soils and Farming Systems’ and ‘the use of proximal sensors and rapid sensing techniques for assessing soil properties and links to crop yield’. As a farmer, he is passionate about delivering soil data and information that has impact, leading to more informed and precise decisions for better soil management.

Soil organic carbon stocks as an indicator of land degradation for Sustainable Development Goal 15

Dr Jacqueline England1, Professor Raphael Viscarra Rossel2, Dr Stephen Roxburgh3, Neil McKenzie3, Dr Carly Green4, Dr Glenn Newnham1, Dr Neil Sims1, Dr Alex Held3,5

1CSIRO Land and Water, Clayton South, Australia, 2Curtin University, Perth, Australia, 3CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra, Australia, 4Global Forest Observation Initiative, Rome, Italy, 5CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, Canberra, Australia

Since 2010 there have been several global and regional targets and initiatives to halt and reverse land degradation and restore degraded land; the most recent being the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG indicator 15.3.1, the proportion of land that is degraded over total land area, is assessed in terms of change in three sub-indicators: land cover, land productivity and carbon stocks. Each of these sub-indicators represents a unique perspective on the manifestation and assessment of land degradation. Soil organic carbon (C) is the current metric for assessing the carbon stocks sub-indicator. Good practice guidance (GPG) has recently been developed to assist countries to report on SDG indicator 15.3.1, and support countries to achieve their targets for reducing degradation. Without being prescriptive about the sources of data, the GPG aims to ensure technical soundness and consistency in estimation methods as well as comparability of results across countries and over time. The approach used to quantify change in soil organic C stocks will vary depending on the availability of country-specific data and capability. Key challenges include the establishment of appropriate baselines and methods for determination of significant change in soil organic C stocks. The latter is further complicated by the typically slow rate of change in soil organic C in relation to indicator reporting periods. This paper presents some of the key methodological details of the GPG for assessing soil organic C stocks and describes considerations that may assist in national scale monitoring of soil organic C in order to implement national reporting against SDG indicator 15.3.1.


Dr Jacqui England is an ecologist with a particular interest in understanding forests and agro-ecosystems to inform their management and restoration. Her research on ecosystem processes in relation to environmental and management factors in these systems has largely focussed on developing tools for accurate carbon accounting, and assessing the co-benefits they provide, to inform policy and influence land management. This work has directly contributed to improving the national carbon accounting tool and to the development of land-based greenhouse gas mitigation methodologies both nationally and internationally.

The potential of crop genotype selection to enhance soil health and sustainable cycling of SOM

Dr Lumbani Mwafulirwa1, Dr Eric Paterson2, Prof Tim Daniell3, Dr Jill Cairns4, Dr Christian Thierfelder4, Prof Liz Baggs1

1University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, 2The James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, United Kingdom, 3The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom, 4CIMMYT Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

Rhizosphere microbiomes can enhance the contribution of soil organic matter (SOM) to soil fertility and resilience to drought. Thus, exploiting plant-associated microbiomes is a likely route to sustainable agricultural production contributing to sustainable development goals (SDGs), especially SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 1 (no poverty) and SDG 3 (good health and well-being). In particular, understanding how plant influence on rhizosphere microbiome relates to nutrient and water use efficiency and SOM stocks can help inform selection of plant species and cultivars for desired function. To this end, we are investigating plant impacts on C and N cycling in maize-based cropping systems in southern Africa to help ensure sustainable food production. In stage one, we characterized six field trial sites in Zimbabwe for soil physical-chemical and microbial properties. In stage two, we applied ¹³CO₂ labelling to 105 maize genotypes to assess the impacts of cultivars on SOM mineralization. This informed selection of 7 cultivars that we are using for in-depth functional characterization in stage three, where ¹⁴NH₄¹⁵NO₃ labelling and molecular techniques were applied to investigate nitrification potential and the soil microbial groups undertaking this process, respectively. Characterization of field sites showed strong variation in soil properties, such as organic matter content, microbial biomass C, pH and cation exchange capacity, by site and management such as conservation agriculture practices. Soil respiration measurements revealed cultivar-specific effects on SOM derived-C respired as CO₂, indicating a strong control of maize genotype on SOM mineralization. This work could benefit nutrient use efficiency through cultivar selection and SOM management, and help ensure maize yield stability, resilience to low nutrient availability and drought and, in turn, improve food security in southern Africa, where maize is the main staple food crop and its productivity remains low.


Lumbani Mwafulirwa works in the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security at the University of Edinburgh as a Research Fellow studying soil microbial populations and the processes they undertake to gain in-depth understanding of root-soil interactions underpinning soil health and sustainable crop production, working closely with project partners at the James Hutton Institute, University of Sheffield and CIMMYT Zimbabwe. He obtained a PhD in Soil Science from the University of Aberdeen in 2017. He previously worked at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Malawi as a research associate.

Soil organic carbon fractions under smallholder farmer conservation agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa

Mr Stuart Irvine-Brown1, Dr Joseph Eyre2, Dr Daniel Rodriguez2

1Queensland Dept. Agriculture and Fisheries, Nambour, Australia, 2Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia

Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a measurable component of soil organic matter and is used as an important indicator for soil health and fertility. This is due to its function through microbial mineralisation processes to assist plant nutrition, improve soil structure, enhance water infiltration and retention, and build resilience against soil erosion. The use of conservation agriculture (CA) has been promoted via zero tillage, residue retention, and crop rotation as a means to raise and retain SOC levels above that of conventional agricultural practices (CP) in the Americas, Europe and Australia.  However, it is disputed that CA can provide similar benefits to smallholder farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa.  This is due to the limited availability of crop residues for retention in such low productivity systems, and the capacity to accurately measure changes in SOC and its constituent physical fractions.  We investigated SOC content via fractionation on soil from three depths in the uppermost 0.3 m under establishment phase CA (zero tillage and residue retention for 4 years) and compared this with CP in continuous maize subsistence agriculture at paired sites across an agro-ecological gradient in Eastern and Southern Africa.  We used Dumas method after a series of chemical and physical size fractionation processes to assess SOC content of the various fractions in conjunction with the use of Australian MIR spectral calibrations to fractionate SOC.  Strong agreement between measured and predicted values gives confidence in the ability of MIR spectral calibrations from Australia to be used to assess SOC fractions of soils from Eastern and Southern Africa.  We found significant increases in particulate (POC) and humic (HOC) organic carbon concentrations in shallow soil (0-0.05 m) from CA treatments with high residues when compared with CP although variable presence of resistant charcoal carbon (ROC) confounded predictions.


I am a soil scientist and horticulturist working across the state of Queensland on horticultural agronomy research and industry development for extension on issues of sustainability, resource base conservation and improvement to catchment scale water quality. My interests lie in sustainable international agriculture and natural resource management with a key focus on innovation and diversity in sub-tropical and tropical horticultural production systems linked to soil science.

Soil organic matter: Ecosystem services, public goods and economic value in post-brexit Wales

Prof. Bernard Cosby1, Amy Thomas1, Steven Anthony2, Chris Bell1, Ian Dickie3, Alice Fitch1, Richard Gooday2, Esther Kettel6, Laurence Jones1, Robert Matthews4, Gavin Siriwardena6, Claudia Steadman7, Dan Thomas5, Massimo Viena7, Bridget Emmett1

1Centre For Ecology And Hydrology, Environment Centre Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd, United Kingdom, 2ADAS, Coxwell Avenue, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom, 3Economics for the Environment Consultancy (eftec), 4 City Road, London, United Kingdom, 4Forest Research, Alice Holt Lodge, Farnham, Surrey, United Kingdom, 5Public Health Wales, Wales, 2 Capital Quarter, Tyndall Street, Cardiff, United Kingdom, 6British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, United Kingdom, 7Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian , United Kingdom

The UK national governments face a significant challenge anticipating potential impacts of Brexit on the agricultural sector and wider environment. To meet this challenge in Wales, the “Quick Start” program (QS), partnering Welsh Government, stakeholders and a consortium of research organisations, combined expert knowledge and a range of decision and modelling tools to examine effects of land use changes that might result from three different Brexit trade scenarios. QS explored potential outcomes and areas at risk for each scenario, and provided a range of ‘what if’ exercises for different land management options designed to provide sustainable ecosystem services delivering public goods for future well-being in Wales post-Brexit. The carbon pools and processes of soil organic matter (SOM) underpin most of the services and public goods crucial to the outcomes of the QS Brexit scenarios and exploratory management exercises. Potential national land use change patterns were mapped at field and farm scale for each Brexit scenario. These areas were combined with other national data sources to run agricultural, woodland and ecological models estimating the range of potential national-scale “knock-on” impacts on SOM-mediated ecosystem goods and services (e.g. water quality, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions). The ‘what if’ exercises included woodland expansion and reduction of agricultural activity on peatland and in low quality farmland for three contrasting landscape types. Economic values were derived for four public goods resulting from the management changes to explore how these varied by landscape type. Key QS outputs include maps of area and location of land potentially at risk of change under the different Brexit trade scenarios across Wales, their environmental consequences and the highly variable economic value (per hectare) of additional public goods which may be delivered under different post-Brexit land management change scenarios.


Dr. Cosby has over 40 years of research experience in the U.S., Canada and Europe studying the hydrology and biogeochemistry of soils and natural waters. His research focuses on development of process-based ecosystem models for catchment soils, low-order streams and small lakes, and coastal and estuarine systems. He uses these models for increasing scientific understanding and as tools for knowledge transfer and environmental decision-making.

The role of the 4p1000 initiative in defining research priorities for soil organic carbon under the sustainable development agenda

Dr Cornelia Rumpel1, Prof Farshad Amiraslani2, Prof Claire Chenu3, Prof Magali Garcia Cardenas4, Prof Beverley Henry5, Dr Martin  Kaonga6, Prof Lydie-Stella Koutika7, Prof Jagdish Ladha8, Dr Beata Madari9, Prof Yasuhito Shirato10, Prof Brahim Saoudi11, Dr Jean-Francois Soussana12, Dr David Whitehead13, Dr Eva Wollenberg14

1Cnrs, Thiverval-grignon, France, 2University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran, 3AgroParisTech, Thiverval-Grignon, France, 4Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, , Bolivia, 5Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia, 6Cambridge Center for Environment, Cambridge, UK, 7CRDPI, Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo, 8University of California, Davis, USA, 9National Rice and Beans Research Center (Embrapa Arroz e Feijão), Santo Antônio de Goiás, Brazil, 10National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, Tsukuba, Japan, 11Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Rabat, Morocco, 12INRA, Paris, France, 13Landcare Research, Lincoln, New Zealand, 14University of Vermont and CGIAR , Vermont, USA

Soil carbon sequestration may be the link between several sustainable development goals in particular those concerning climate, life on land, and no hunger. While SOC sequestration can contribute to partly offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, its main benefits are related to increased soil quality and climate change adaptation. The STC of the 4p1000 initiative established general criteria for informative assessment actions under 4p1000 framed by UN sustainable development goals. We also elaborated a research plan highlighting the main gabs to be addressed for successful implementation. Science is needed to define and test promising region and context specific agricultural management practices. For evaluation of impacts of these practices, quantitative ex-ante assessment and ex-post monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) strategies have to be developped and tested. Organic carbon baselines need to be established for specific situations. Finally, there is a need to quantify the socioeconomic impact of increased SOC sequestration to businesses, stakeholders and farmers. This requires not only inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration between scientists but also multi-stakeholder collaboration at the science-policy interface to demonstrate effects and put sustainable land management strategies into practice. The objective of this talk is to present the aims of the initiative, to identify barriers, risks and trade-offs and show how science based evaluation of critical issues can be useful in the context of collaboration between multiple parties in order to stimulate innovation and to initiate the transition of agricultural systems toward sustainability.


Cornelia Rumpel is a research director working for the French National Research Center (CNRS) at the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences Paris. She studied forestry in Germany and Scotland and received a master diploma from the Ludwig-Maximilans University at Munich, Germany in 1994. Afterwards, she worked as a research scientist at the Brandenbourg University of Technology in Cottbus, Germany, where she obtained her PhD degree in natural sciences in 1999. she studied the origin and fate of terrestrial organic matter, aiming to understand the mechanisms controlling carbon sequestration in soils. Her studies concerned various spatial and temporal scales in different environments ranging from soils and sediments in mining areas to natural as well as managed ecosystems, including those affected by fire. Her work was carried out in temperate and tropical climates and the results of her research changed of a number of paradigms. She published >160 papers, which were cited more than 8000 times. In 2016 and 2017 she was listed as a highly cited researcher. She was nominated ambassador of the Technical University of Munich and has been the chair of the STC of the 4p1000 initiative since 2018.

SOM, SDG, BRG, ACIAR, PCI, NDC, BOSF: communicating across disciplines, cultures and jurisdictions to realise the potential of Soil Organic Matter research to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Dr Samantha Grover1, Ms Amanda Sinclair1, Ms Yunnita  Fransisca1, Dr Andrea Rawluk2, Dr Lynne  Macdonald3, Dr Laura Graham4, Dr Dony Rachmanadi5, Dr Zafrullah Damanik7, Dr Nina Yulianti7, Professor Fengky F. Adji7, Associate Professor Graeme Applegate8, Dr Niken Sakuntaladewi6, Dr Daniel Menhdam9

1RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, 2University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, 3CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Glen Osmond, Australia, 4Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Palangka Raya, Indonesia, 5FOERDIA, Banjamarsin, Indonesia, 6FOERDIA, Bogor, Indonesia, 7University of Palangka Raya, Palangka Raya, Indonesia, 8University of the Sunshine Coast, , Australia, 9CSIRO Land and Water, Hobart, Australia

Soil scientists across the world recognise the importance of soil organic matter in achieving many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Want to double agricultural productivity of small scale farmers (2.3)? Consider the soil. Want to restore degraded land (15.3)? Consider the soil. Want to increase capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change (13.3)? Consider the soil. However, the importance of soil organic matter in sustainable development is not well appreciated by a wider audience. This paper presents a case study of research design and implementation whereby cutting edge soil organic matter research is nested within a multidisciplinary, international “Research for Development” project: “Community fire management and peatland restoration in Indonesia” that attends to the integration of soil science research in a broader, social and ecological context. Indonesia has committed to implement the SDGs, with the  Ministry of Environment and Forestry (FOERDIA) becoming the main actor to implement Goals 12, 13 and 15. The focus of action towards achieving these goals in Indonesia is centred around reducing peatland fires. As such, there is potentially a strong relationship between this international research project and fulfilment of SDG goals in Indonesia. The narrative of this paper grows outwards from the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Mid Infra Red spectroscopy and hydrology investigations of degraded tropical peatlands to explore the processes and challenges of communicating this SOM research such that it can effectively inform sustainable peatland management. Internal and external communications, disciplinary, institutional and cultural barriers, assumptions and norms: a good graph is simply not good enough to inform this change. Lessons learnt and current challenges will be shared from this ongoing research.


Separating nutrient and non-nutrient effects of organic amendments on crop yield

Dr Corinne Celestina1, Dr James Hunt1, Dr Peter Sale1, Dr Ashley Franks2

1Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences, AgriBio the Centre for AgriBiosciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia, 2Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Microbiology, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia

Organic amendments such as manures, composts and plant residues are often used in crop production systems as alternatives to inorganic fertilisers, to restore degraded soils or to ameliorate soil physicochemical constraints. These organic amendments can indirectly affect crop yields by increasing soil organic matter content and thereby improving soil biological activity, cation exchange capacity, structural integrity and so on. However, organic amendments can also provide large amounts of nutrients to the plant which can directly affect crop yields via fertilisation. Therefore, crop yield responses to the application of organic amendments could be due to an ‘organic matter’ effect, to the plant nutrients contained in the amendment, or some combination of both factors. Because of the way in which many of these experiments are conducted these factors can be confounded, leading to difficulties in accurately ascribing yield responses to nutrient and non-nutrient effects. Using subsoil manuring on poorly-structured clay soils in south-eastern Australia as a case study, we demonstrate how to use properly designed and assessed field experiments to separate the effects of fertilisation from other non-nutrient effects of the organic amendment on crop yield. We discuss: how to identify genuine soil constraints to plant growth; the selection of proper control treatments; the use of appropriate sampling protocols to assess treatment differences; and, additional measurements that can be used to elucidate the drivers of crop yield responses.


Dr Celestina is a Research Officer in the Crop Agronomy Group at La Trobe University, where she works on the GRDC-funded National Phenology Initiative. In 2018 she completed her PhD at La Trobe University on understanding the drivers of the crop yield response to subsoil placement of organic amendments.

Animal vs. plant based organic sources management in rice-wheat system: Symbiosis for the economic and social value of small holders in rural areas

Dr Amanullah Amanullah1

1The University Of Agriculture Peshawar, Peshawar, Pakistan

In rice-wheat system especially in South Asia the inorganic nitrogen (N) fertilizers represent the largest component of the N cycle because the N supply from soil organic manures is inadequate. The 4‰-Initiative aims to improve the organic matter content and promote carbon sequestration in soils through best management agriculture practices which are economically, environmentally and socially friendly. Maintaining organic carbon-rich soils, restoring and improving degraded agricultural lands and, in general terms, increasing the soil carbon, play an important role in addressing the three-fold challenge of food security, adaptation of food systems and people to climate change, and the mitigation of anthropogenic emissions (Paris Agreement, 2015). Therefore, we designed this study in which field experiments were conducted to assess the impact of various organic sources (OSs) viz. animal manures:  poultry, sheep and cattle manures and crop residues: onion, berseem and wheat, inorganic nitrogen (N) and the different combinations of inorganic N (urea) + OS on the economic analysis under rice-wheat system. The experiments were conducted on farmer’s fields at Batkhela (Malakand), Northwestern Pakistan, in two consecutive years 2011-12 (year one) and 2012-13 (year two). Our results revealed that gross returns (GR) ranked first for the rice when applied with sole inorganic N (urea), followed by the application of N in mixture (urea + OSs), while the control plots (no N applied) ranked in the bottom. Among the six OSs (three animal manures: poultry, sheep and cattle; three crop residues: onion, berseem and wheat), application of N in the form of poultry manure was superior in terms of higher GR. When applying 120 kg N ha-1, 75% N from urea + 25% N from OS resulted in higher GR in year one, while applying 50% N from urea + 50% N from OS produced higher GR in year two. Therefore, the combined application of N sources in the form of urea + OS can produce good performances in terms of higher GR under rice-wheat system. Integrated use of chemical fertilizers in different combination with organic manure is recommended for sustaining agricultural production under cereal based (exhaustive) system.


Dr. Amanullah is currently working as Associate Professor in the Department of Agronomy, Faculty of Crop Production Sciences, The University of Agriculture Peshawar, Pakistan. Dr. Amanullah did his PhD in Agronomy from The University of Agriculture Peshawar in 2004 & and his Post Doctorate from Dryland Agriculture Institute, WTAMU, Canyon Texas, USA in 2010.  Dr. Amanullah has published 12 books and more than 150 research papers in peer reviewed journals including 100 papers in the impact factor journals. He is the co-author of three recent books of published by FAO (1): Soil and Pulses: Symbiosis for Life (2016) (2): Unlocking the Potential of Soil Organic Carbon (2017) and (3): Soil Pollution: a hidden reality (2018). Dr. Amanullah edited three books with Intech: (1) Rice – Technology and Production (2017), (2) Nitrogen in Agriculture-Updates (2018) & (3) Corn: Production and Human Health in Changing Climate (2018). Dr. Amanullah has been awarded with three Research Productivity Awards by the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST), Islamabad in 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2015-16. Dr. Amanullah represented Pakistan in the FAO Intergovernmental technical panel on soil of Global Soil Partnership (2015-2018). Dr. Amanullah also won the first prize in the innovative research proposal competition arranged by DICE at the University of Gujarat in 2013-14.

Dr. Amanullah field of interests includes: Agronomy, Field Crops Production, Crop Physiology & Growth Analysis, Inter-Cropping & Plants Competition, Biodiversity, Crop Nutrition, Fertilizer and Water Use Efficiency, Dryland Agriculture & Drought, Organic Farming, Crops Management under Stressful Environments, Sustainable Crop, Sustainable Soil Management and Water Management, and Farmers training etc.

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