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By Jeda Palmer Laura Methorst 4 December 2022 3 min read

Key points

  • We've launched the Australian National Soil Information System (ANSIS) to help sustainably manage a critical resource.
  • Soil is everywhere, but its importance may not be known or understood.
  • Although soil may look unassuming, it is actually teeming with life and helps produce healthy plants and clean water.

We're working on a $15 million project to develop the Australian National Soil Information System (ANSIS). It is aimed at improving the sustainable management of soil across Australia.

Soil is everywhere, but its importance may not be known or understood. So, let’s find out why soil is so valuable.

1. Soil grows food

We all love food. But not just any soil grows the best crops. Healthy soil that is high in nutrients grows nutritious plants. These provide the vitamins and minerals we need to lead healthy lives.

To produce nutritious foods, farmers first need to know about their soil. Specifically, they need to be able to measure and manage the amount of nutrients within their soil. Along with ensuring there is water and other components of the soil available.

To make sure we are eating and growing the best food we can, ANSIS will provide data and information to help growers make the best decisions for their farm.

2. Life in a handful of soil

Although soil may look unassuming, it is actually teeming with life. Alongside the organisms we can see, like ants, earthworms and beetles, are billions of other microorganisms. These include bacteria and fungi.

Bacteria plays an important role in maintaining the health of the soil. These little legends break down organic matter like leaves and twigs into rich, dark material called humus. Soil rich in humus is good for plants – especially plants that grow food for humans and animals to eat.

3. Soil is a huge natural water filter

Did you know the soil beneath our feet hold lots of water? Turns out all that rain needs to go somewhere. Dirty water flowing into soil gets filtered as it seeps downwards. The solid part of the soil holds on to pollutants, chemicals and minerals. This leaves clean water to flow into groundwater stores.

A good example is the Great Artesian Basin. The basin is home to the largest and deepest underground aquifers, water storage system, in the world.

Covering more than 1.7 million square kilometres, the basin is the only source of fresh water through much of inland Australia. It provides a lifeline for many of our farming and rural communities.

The Great Artesian Basin, Queensland, Australia. Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Carbon storage cooling systems

Soil organic carbon is very small bits of organic material, such as leaves, plant roots or charcoal. Some soil carbon can bind to the solid bits of soil and stay there for centuries.

When soil carbon has been in the soil for many years, it is considered ‘sequestered’. This means it will stay in the soil for a long time and microorganisms are unlikely to turn it into carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

There is huge potential to increase soil organic carbon in Australia. By sequestering more soil carbon in our soil, it will help Australia meet our national and international greenhouse gas emissions targets.

However, to know where and how much our soils are sequestering carbon, we need more soil data. ANSIS will provide the data that can show the potential of soil to sequester carbon across Australia.

5. Soil impacts air quality

Degraded or unhealthy soil can be swept up by the wind and form large dust storms.

These dust storms can be harmful for human health and agriculture. They can interrupt transport. And they can sometimes arrive at cities causing mass disruption.

Better management of soil can potentially reduce the risk of dust storms.

Sydney dust storm. Image credit: Shutterstock

Knowing more about our soil

To be able to best care for our soil, we need to be able to measure and know what’s going on with it.

ANSIS will provide improved access to nationally consistent soil data and information needed to help sustainably manage Australian soil.

The ANSIS project is supported by the National Soil Strategy and funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. It is a collaboration between government, research organisations, industry, the private sector, and the community. It will help Australians to better understand our diverse range of soils and make better decisions about managing our important soil resources.

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