Australian Rangeland Society

Daryl Green – Formerly NSW Soil Conservation Service and Western Catchment Management Authority.  Email: daryl.green@bigpond.com

 

The ‘Golden Years’ of Government agencies’ involvement in extension and research in the rangelands of Australia appears to have declined significantly in recent years. Many of those officers who worked in the rangelands from the 1970s onwards have either retired and/or moved to other locations. This loss of specialist experience and expertise is common across many natural resource management groups in Australia.

In an effort to address this loss, the NSW Soil Knowledge Network (SKN) was established in 2013. The SKN is a group of retired/semi-retired soil practitioners who have come together in a volunteer group to help maintain and extend their knowledge of soils. The SKN consists of soil scientists, soil advisory officers and University and CSIRO soil researchers. There are currently 18 members.

The group believes that a good understanding of soils is very important for the ongoing management of natural resources and of production systems and that the current employment of generalist officers and facilitators means that soil information and advice is often superficial.

The activities and directions of the SKN (and much more information) can be accessed at: (http://www.nswskn.com/ ).  The key aims of the SKN are to:

  • Capture and transfer core soils wisdom to increase the effectiveness of future soil managers.
  • Improve access, awareness and use of quality soil information.
  • Promote the use of evidence-based decisions in land management.
  • Establish and broker effective industry, agency and community links.
  • Mentor and inspire the next generation of soil specialists.

The group achieves these aims by producing videos on soil attributes and management (see website), running specialist soil workshops for NRM practitioners (both commercial and government officers) and soil field workshops for farmers.  SKN experts have delivered over 25 ‘Pits and Kits’ farmer workshops which have been very well received. The activities of SKN have been reported in the Journal of Soil Use and Management (see references below).  The group is also making a major effort to save ‘legacy documents’ and scan those that are currently not accessible in an electronic format. The SKN group has already scanned a number of significant rangelands ‘grey literature’, including The NSW Soil Conservation Service’s Rangeland Review series, Graziers Guide series and Western NSW District Technical Manuals.

A facility has been established to save and archive hard copy documents that are not readily available from normal sources. It is believed that many of these older documents still contain valuable soil information

Three of the SKN members have strong rangelands backgrounds – Peter Walker, Daryl Green and John Lawrie. These three worked in the rangelands of NSW when there were many more agency people engaged in research, extension and management of the rangelands of Australia – just as there used to be many more officers involved in soil management!

 

Photo 1: SKN members inspect a 1970 run-off plot near Cobar, NSW

 

Photo 2:  SKN farmer field day, Bega, NSW

 

SKN holds regular meetings around NSW and at these we engage with locals through field activities, discussions and mentoring. Recent examples have been engagement with Tocal College agricultural students, NSW National Parks staff on alpine soil management and blueberry farmers on the north coast of NSW. In addition, the SKN attempts to influence soil policy by the production of “Position Statements’ on issues that the group considers important for soil management – these can be viewed on the website.

Is there the possibility that a group of retired ‘rangeland experts’ could be encouraged to form an Australian Rangelands Knowledge Network along the same lines as the SKN? While the logistics of an Australia-wide group may be more difficult to establish; the use of the NRM Regional Bodies, the Rangelands Alliance or possibly the Australian Rangelands Society to support the establishment of such a group could be canvassed. It is important to note that the SKN would have had a great deal of difficulty in getting off the ground without the significant support from the Soil Group within the former NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

 

Further reading:

Ian J. Packer Greg A. Chapman John W. Lawrie (2019) On‐Ground extension of soil information to improve land management.  Journal of Soil Use and Management. Volume 35, Issue 1. (https://doi.org/10.1111/sum.12494 Pages 75 -84)

Sally K. McInnes‐Clarke Brian R. Jenkins Andrew Rawson Brian W. Murphy (2019) Sharing soil knowledge and evaluating progress in the New South Wales Soil Knowledge Network. Journal of Soil Use and Management. Volume 35, Issue 1. (https://doi.org/10.1111/sum.12502 Pages 105 -116)