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.

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