Soil is crucial to the health and productivity of farms. Understanding the opportunities and barriers for collecting and sharing Australian soil data is critical given pushes to increase environmental sustainability and grow carbon markets.
Soil plays an intrinsic role in ensuring the prosperity of the complex agroecological systems that produce food and fibre. Environmental factors and human interventions all contribute to the state of soil health on farm.
Variation across geographies means there is a complex array of soil types and structures that exist across Australia’s farmland and the earth in general. This impacts the productivity of farms and benefits farmers could receive in terms of soil carbon capture potential.
When thinking about the potential of soil data on farm, it is important to understand the perspective farmers hold towards its collection and sharing amongst key stakeholders.
Understanding such perspectives across industries is important. It can allow for identification of barriers and bottle necks in the process of diversifying farm revenue streams or enhancing agricultural land management through soil data aggregation.
The 2017 “Precision to Decision” (P2D) Agriculture study investigated Australian farmers’ willingness and relative comfort in sharing data with particular institutions and stakeholders (Jakku et al, 2017).
The KG2 farmer data base played a pivotal role in reaching a large sample of Australian farmers across industries. Specifically, we spoke to 1000 Australian farmers about their thoughts and approach to farm data collection and use (Jakku et al, 2017).
Here is an overview of key findings about farmers’ thoughts on soil test data.
Are farmers comfortable sharing their soil test data?
The study found that Australian farmers across all industries were highly comfortable sharing soil test data overall with the 5 actors they were questioned about, as seen in figure the figure below from the original report (Jakku et al, 2017). Farmers were specifically asked to rate how comfortable they were sharing soil test data with:
- Research institutions
- Other farmers
- Agricultural industry-based organisations
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
- Technology and service provider businesses
Figure 1: Comfort in sharing soil test data with actors. Chart is “Figure 60” from the original P2D report (Jakku et al., 2017)
Sharing soil data with other farmers vs technology and service provider businesses
The report found that 73% of Australian farmers were comfortable or extremely comfortable sharing soil test data with other farmers, and this comfort was relatively stable across different agricultural industries (Jakku et al, 2017).
Only 57% of farmers indicated they were “comfortable” or “extremely comfortable” sharing soil test data with technology and service provider businesses (Jakku et al, 2017).
10% were not comfortable at all (Jakku et al, 2017).
Important issues: Aggregated data, profit sharing and other forms of soil data
The study also investigated comfort levels surrounding aggregated farm data and profit sharing (Jakku et al, 2017).
Farmers indicated concern over sharing aggregated data (not just soil data) with businesses and not having money shared with them. In fact, 61% said they were concerned or extremely concerned with “businesses using aggregated data to make profits without sharing with producers” (Jakku et al, 2017).
This is an important reminder of the numerous issues related to monetising any form of farm data.
There are issues with measurement, data quality as well as sharing and ensuring that generated revenue is distributed appropriately.
This is a complex space and with the development of soil carbon markets and soil data analysis techniques, more concerns and issues will arise.
Looking to the future: soil data and agriculture
The types of data that can be extracted from soil measurements is vast and varied. Be that classifying soil type or investigating the carbon storage potential of a particular paddock.
Sampling and measurement techniques are continuously evolving to improve speed, efficiency and accuracy. This is transforming the way soil data is collected, aggregated and analysed.
Satellite measurement of soil carbon is becoming an increasingly important area of development for scalable analysis and carbon credit allocation.
This study was conducted in 2017 and did not ask questions about soil data in the context of specific measurement techniques or soil carbon potential. It does, however, highlight the importance of farm data and the way it is shared and used amongst stakeholders.
Farm data will continue to be an important area of market research and development.
To read the full P2D report, click here
Jakku, Emma; Zhang, Airong; Llewellyn, Rick. Producer survey to identify accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture (P2D) needs and issues. Final Report. Brisbane: CSIRO and Cotton Research and Development Corporation; 2017. http://hdl.handle.net/102.100.100/87458?index=1