About soils community of practice
Background / Context
Victorian agriculture is entering a new and challenging phase. Statewide food production, (farmgate output of $8.2 billion in 2007-08) is vitally dependent on preserving and improving soil health. Improving soil health in the context of future climate variability, demand for increased agricultural production and growing competition for soils RD&E funding requires careful planning to support the long-term development of sustainable agriculture in Victoria.
The 2010 report of the Victorian Auditor General into Soil Health identified the importance of soil health to the future viability of Victorian agriculture. The principal findings of the report were:
- There is no whole-of-government approach to soil health to guide planning, implementation and investment. No single agency is responsible for coordinating regional, multi-regional and state soil health projects across private land.
- Roles and responsibilities lack clarity and transparency across regions due to the range of stakeholders involved, each with different mandates and priorities.
- Individual soil health projects by the department and CMAs have been well managed and delivered as planned across the state. Project objectives have generally been met. However, as a suite of activities there is little evidence that these projects have met the broad objectives set for soil health in regional and state strategies.
- The effectiveness of the suite of soil health projects in improving soil health cannot be accurately reported as individual projects and their performance and reporting frameworks are output focused, little soil health monitoring occurs, and existing soil health data varies in quality and is fragmented and inconsistent. This finding reflects the broader findings of VAGO's Performance Reporting by Departments performance audit tabled in Parliament in 2010, which highlighted the lack of cost-effective evaluations and outcome-based reporting in general.
An integrated state-wide soil health framework for Victoria is currently in preparation. This will inform the concurrent development of a Soil Health Policy Framework for the department and a Soil Health Strategy for DSE. These initiatives will support improved alignment of soils RD&E which will in turn support the development, and activities of, the Soils Community of Practice.
The Soils Community of Practice (CoP) aims to give effect to the VAGO recommendations by providing a coordination and facilitation function through which communication within and between divisions of the department is enhanced. In addition, the CoP will provide an important forum for improved communication and collaboration with external partners including Industry and Catchment Management Authorities. Improving coordination and alignment through policy, research and extension will ensure activities are relevant, timely, targeted, and will deliver sound returns on investment. Anticipated benefits will include improved interagency communication, integration of similar initiatives, alignment of resources, and enhanced opportunities for state or federal funding.
The CoP will operate at a range of scales. The interdivisional soils group aims to improve collaboration and coordination of activities between divisions. Priorities and activities will strongly align with current policy directions and will provide input to policy development as appropriate. A specific aim of this group is to improve alignment between research and route-to-market through improved project design. Each division will host Soil Leadership Groups to communicate key soils messages within the division and between divisions. These forums will be used for training, improved consistency of messages on technical matters and to provide input into interdivisional communication. The Open Forum group aims to provide access for all stakeholders interested in improving understanding and management of soils. The following Terms of Reference provide more information on the activities of each group.
Terms of reference
1. Inter Divisional Soils Group
- Membership will comprise of one technical representative from each of three divisions – Biosciences Research, Future Farming Systems Research, and Farm Services Victoria.
- The Group will meet every 4-6 weeks or more frequently if required to discuss cross divisional soil-related issues.
- The Group will:
- Provide advice to the Executive and Policy on soil technical matters.
- Provide a conduit for implementation of policy through research, development and extension.
- Provide technical direction for soil services.
- Coordinate soil health activities across divisions to ensure that there are effective synergies between research and extension.
- Work with KPMs and others to develop new cross divisional soil projects.
- Ensure that accurate and consistent messages are implemented across Divisions.
- Provide direction on the application of research outcomes (regional, state, national and international) in soil services.
- Report back to divisional staff on relevant cross-divisional issues.
2. Intra-divisional soils leadership groups
- The intra-divisional Soils Leadership Groups will comprise relevant staff engaged in soils research and extension.
- Soils Leadership Groups should include a diversity of input including Key Project Managers.
- Groups should meet 3-4 times per year or as required to discuss issues relevant to the functioning of the Soils Community of Practice.
- Groups will:
- Provide advice, direction and coordination for soil capacity building across the division.
- Coordinate soil health activities within the division.
- Develop new soils research projects in consultation with partner divisions.
- Develop route to market and extension messages in consultation with partner divisions.
- Establish consistent and effective reporting measures.
- Discuss and resolve relationship management issues.
- Develop strategies to promote the value of the departmental soil service offer.
- Evaluate and continuously improve soils projects.
3. Open forum
- The Open Forum will include CMA staff, Industry representatives (e.g. Dairy Australia, Victorian Grain Growers Alliance, Horticulture Industry Network, Meat and Livestock Australia), University researchers, Farmers and Landcare members, private providers working to manage and improve soils, and all departmental staff involved or interested in soils.
- The Group will communicate via email and an on-line central information repository. Members will be invited to attend a minimum of two seminars / open days / training / awareness-raising activities each year.
- The CMA members will initially meet via the Dryland Managers' Forum.
- The Group will :
- Share relevant soil information
- Inform others of upcoming soil events / activities.
- Share good news stories.
- Support each other to deliver projects when required
- Use consistent and accurate extension material and provide consistent messaging to farmers and private providers.