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LANDSCANTM – Landscape and Soil Test Interpretation for Sustainable Pasture Management

Clare Edwards1, Mike Keys2 and Bruce Clements3

1 NSW Department of Primary Industries, C2 Earth Sciences Building UNE Armidale 2351, 2 NSW Department of Primary Industries, Queanbeyan, 3 NSW Department of Primary Industries, Bathurst


This paper outlines a landscape management course, called LANDSCANTM, developed by NSW Department of Primary Industries. The Department has delivered the course to over 240 land managers, primary producers and graziers from the Tablelands, the Upper Slopes and Coastal regions of NSW. Some NSW Catchment Management Authorities have found that LANDSCAN also aligns with their goals and are supporting its delivery.

The course was developed primarily for landholders in response to a need to look at issues on a whole farm basis rather than in isolation. For example, salinity, acidification, low fertility and pasture decline are all outcomes of land management, and are thus symptoms of a particular farming system rather than 'problems'. Further, they are inter-related, so that action needs to be taken on a whole-farm (or catchment) basis, rather than responding to single issues.

LANDSCAN is delivered by NSW Department of Primary Industries extension staff including agronomists, soil specialists and livestock officers. It is delivered on-farm over six sessions, with a mix of theory and practical exercises. The aim is to develop the skills and knowledge of participants to assess natural resources (pastures, vegetation, soils and topography), thereby assisting a better match of land-use with land capability. The course also allows attendees to prioritise management practices (such as fencing for engineering a lambing paddock, the use of soil tests for nutrient monitoring and using soil ameliorants) for sustainable land management on a whole farm basis. The final session focuses on determining priorities and allocating scarce resources to get the “biggest bang for your buck”, allowing a balance of production, profit and sustainability.

Media Summary

A workshop series for landholders in variable grazing landscapes that promotes more informed decisions on land management and better matching land capability with enterprises, production goals and sustainability.

Key Words

LANDSCAN, landscape, land capability, sustainable farm management, land degradation


LANDSCANTM investigates landscape characteristics and management options with producers and land managers through a workshop series. It aims to develop participants’ skills and knowledge in assessing natural resources on farms to better match land-use with land capability. It helps participants make better, more informed on-farm decisions about managing landscapes and allocating resources for production, profit and sustainability. These decisions also have wider implications, with effects on other natural resource issues, often on a catchment-wide scale, although due to the complexity of the interactions, these can sometimes be difficult to quantify (Lockwood et al. 2003; Schumann and Glover 2002).

The course is delivered on-farm in six sessions, over 4 to 8 months with an equal mix of theory, practical demonstrations and exercises. This mixture enables the participants to understand the theories using recognised adult learning principles – namely contextual material, using multi-sensory learning, reinforcement and participatory learning in a rewarding process (Australian National Training Authority 1999). Each half-day session builds on its predecessor and the final full-day session focuses on assessing several paddocks, determining priorities and allocating resources (such as finances and time) to reach a balance between production, profit and sustainability.

The workshops cater for 12 to 15 properties in each course, usually comprising 15 to 20 individuals. It has now been delivered to over 240 participants throughout the tablelands, slopes and coastal areas of NSW. Evaluations of the course have been extremely positive in regard to content, length and delivery style.

Many of the participants highlighted a desire to get together after the workshop series had been completed, with many wanting an update or follow-up day twelve months later. Sessions three and six were highlighted as being the most valuable by some, while many thought all sessions were equally valuable. The pre- and post- workshop questionnaires used to evaluate knowledge change showed an increased level of knowledge about landscape indicators and causes of soil degradation such as soil acidity and soil nutrient issues.


The course evolved primarily from a single-issue extension package for managing soil acidity on the central and southern tablelands of NSW. At the same time, a similar program on understanding soil fertility through soil testing was being conducted within the state. It became apparent that a single soil degradation issue should not be looked at in isolation. Best practice management for a range of factors such as soil depth, aspect, pasture species present, current soil nutrient status, paddock use, topography and so on, should be considered concurrently (Clements 1999). During the evolution of the course, several pilot workshops and deliverer training workshops were held across the state, enabling improvement to occur along with fine-tuning to specific localities.

LANDSCAN was developed by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) (formerly NSW Agriculture) extension officers including agronomists, soil specialists and livestock officers, with some support funding from the then Acid Soil Action programme. It integrates natural resources research, such as soil acidity trials, with practical management issues to give the course a ‘local’ flavour in each area. Delivery is by two NSW DPI trained LANDSCAN technical presenters and facilitators with experience in local landscapes and agriculture and backgrounds in soils, pastures and livestock. An extensive presenter’s kit includes a manual and a Power Point-based session outline with notes. The LANDSCAN participants each receive a manual and have access to equipment such as soil samplers and GPS units during the course.

An important feature of any adult learning course is the encouragement of participants to share their knowledge and their own experiences. This, coupled with supporting technical information, increases the overall learning opportunities and experiences and the likelihood of adoption. Participants are encouraged to interact from the start of the workshop. The initial session includes an exploration of participants’ expectations. Evaluations of participant subject knowledge taken at the commencement and conclusion of the course are compared and the degree of progression can be assessed. A final evaluation on course content and delivery is obtained several months after completion. Suggestions and fine tuning continue to occur based on this evaluation, with the second edition of the Manual now available (see Clements et al. 2005).

Sessions and their learning outcomes.

Session One – Reading landscapes examines land capability and limitations. In each session, participants progress through activities, looking at landscape indicators and their meaning. These include associations between tree and pasture types and underlying soil characteristics. One activity includes the breaking down of landscape components into limitations that can be changed or modified and those that cannot.

Outcomes include recognising major land classes, important visual indicators of land capability (slope, aspect, vegetation), a comprehension of land capability classes and understanding which landscape features exclude or limit management or development options. Landscapes where the priority for management is to minimise land degradation, rather than maximise production, are identified.

Session Two – Soils and soil sampling is all about soils, covering different profiles, changes associated with position in the landscape and various physical properties including simple tests for texture and structure. Soil biology is outlined, including interactions with soil health. The group is asked to explore soil capability and limitations such as rocks, soil depth and water holding capacity and their management implications.

An important part of this session is learning the importance of soil testing and how this tool can be used as an aid to both decision making and understanding soil degradation issues. Participants take soil samples from their own properties which are sent away for analysis at a NATA accredited laboratory. Samples are taken from two depths (0-10cm and 10-20cm) to provide information from both the ‘topsoil’ and the ‘subsoil’.

The desired outcomes include relating landscape features to soil characteristics, becoming familiar with soil descriptions and profiles and understanding the physical, chemical and biological properties of soils. Landholders should also be able to take soil samples for meaningful diagnosis and monitoring.

Session Three – Soil fertility and soil test interpretation covers soil test interpretation. Benchmarks are derived from the group’s soil data and compared to established figures from previous local research or extension activities. Exercises include creating an analogy between soil test reports and more familiar reports (such as a carcase grid or a wool test report) to help participants feel more comfortable with exploring a sometimes daunting and complicated page of numbers.

Outcomes from session three include understanding basic plant nutrition principles like the “Law of the Minimum”, and comprehending and interpreting soil tests. There should be increased awareness of benchmark or critical levels for important soil nutrients and an ability to identify soil chemical limitations in paddocks.

Session Four – Sustainability and productivity encompasses the cause and effect of local soil degradation issues, often highlighted by soil tests. The main issues include soil acidity, dryland salinity, nutrient depletion, erosion, sodicity, acid sulfate soils (in coastal landscapes) and soil structural decline. Paddock activities reinforce the causes and effects of these issues, as various examples are seen in situ. Once again, the use of landscape indicators that are associated with these problems is explored. Outcomes include understanding the causes and effects of major soil degradation issues, their links with the water cycle and some off-farm effects they can create.

Session Five – Tools and Strategies continues with degradation issues and builds on the various remedies aimed at alleviating these problems. There is an emphasis on matching pastures and enterprises to soils and landscapes. Suitable soil ameliorants and management practices are addressed in the context of issues that are not always paddock based, but rather property or catchment-wide.

Expected outcomes include an ability to match enterprise and pasture type with soil and landscape features, to select types and rates of soil ameliorants, to manage soil nutrients and to develop preventative management strategies for soil acidity, salinity and sodicity.

Session Six – Making better decisions is the climax of the workshop and is about prioritising inputs to achieve the best result from the available resources in terms of both production goals and sustainability outcomes. This involves rating 5 or 6 actual paddocks on a property for limitations, soil degradation issues and potential production and management implications. Working in small groups, the activity first assumes no financial limitations. The exercise then becomes harder, when a set financial limit is imposed. Groups are given realistic pre-determined costs for operations like pasture sowing, fertilising, fencing and liming. The group activity allows interaction between the participants to develop their ideas and provides a sound basis for their future decision making.

Outcomes include greater skill in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of paddocks to determine potential productivity, proficiency in developing management strategies for each paddock, and an ability to prioritise inputs for paddocks on a whole farm basis


Since its beginnings in 2003, LANDSCAN has been delivered to over 240 participants throughout NSW. Pre- and post-course questionaries on participants’ knowledge and skills have revealed an improved understanding of indicators in the landscape, soil degradation issues and their causes and the effect of different management strategies on the environment. Feedback from the post-course mail-out reveals that participants are better able to differentiate between paddocks with higher or lesser potential. This enables scarce time, labour and financial resources to be put to best use to achieve whole farm sustainability and production goals.

Evaluations from several workshops throughout the state revealed that 90% of respondents felt that they were better able to manage the natural resources on their farm as a result of doing the LANDSCAN course. 100% said that they were better able to recognise different landscape features on their farm and to assess the strengths and weakness of their paddocks. One of the aims of the course is to enable prioritisation of paddocks in terms of inputs and 90% said that they could do this as a result of undertaking the course. 97% of surveyed respondents said that they would recommend the workshop to others.

A core outcome is the increased knowledge about and adoption of technological tools such as soil testing, demystifying them and promoting their use. When asked specifically if, as a result of participating in LANDSCAN, they are better able to take and interpret soil tests, 85% of respondents said yes. Set pre- and post-workshop questionnaires reveal an increase in knowledge levels due to attending LANDSCAN. For example in one group, 41% incorrectly believed Microlaena was intolerant of acid soils in the pre-workshop quiz. After LANDSCAN, 100% correctly identified Microlaena as an acid tolerant species (Keys et al. 2004). Over several groups, knowledge improvement to 40 questions has averaged 40%.

Comments from post workshop mail questionnaires from several groups include the following:-

“I found the course very interesting and informative, especially the soil science aspects”

“The course gave me a new insight into landscape observation and interpretation”

“Mix of presenters very good. Interactions and inputs from participants very valuable. As new landholders, this course absolutely invaluable for us, especially combined with PROGRAZE course. Learned lots”

“If only we had done this course before we prepared our farm plan”

“A very informative and interesting workshop, which will make me think a lot more about improvement strategies, especially involving individual paddocks”

“…the local orientation of the course to local conditions...”

Currently there are a number of LANDSCAN courses being run, most with support from Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) in NSW. This support subsidises course costs including soil testing, helps landholders with their management goals and helps the CMAs with their soil, water and vegetation targets.


LANDSCAN is a workshop series primarily for graziers and landholders in variable landscapes of the tablelands, slopes and coastal environments. The course delivers its objectives on-farm through mix of practical and theoretical activities over a series of sessions. The course information encourages attendees to consider how to operate within the constraints of their farm landscape and their soil resources. It helps producers to understand the limitations of their existing resources, the costs and benefits of different strategies and how to prioritise inputs.

The course integrates natural resources such as soils and vegetation with enterprises on a whole farm basis. It allows attendees to make better informed, more rational decisions to better match production and conservation goals to landscape characteristics. This complement of productivity and sustainability should lead to better environmental outcomes.


The authors would like to express their gratitude to Dr P Orchard and the rest of the LANDSCAN development team for their involvement in and support of the programme. The workshop series was developed with funding from Acid Soil Action, a NSW government initiative.


Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) (1999). Resource for the training package Assessment and Workplace training BSZ98 Learner’s Pack pp 35 -36.

Clements B (1999). “Whole Farm Management of Acid Soils”. Proc. 14th Annual Conference, Grassland Society of NSW pp59-63.

Clements B, Keys MJ, Schumann, B (2005). LANDSCAN manual – Landscape and soil test interpretation for sustainable pasture management. NSW Department of Primary Industries, 2nd Edition.

Keys, M., Clements, B. and Edwards, C. (2004). LANDSCANTM Practical Landscape and Soil Test Interpretation Workshops for Sustainable Farm Management, 3rd Australian/New Zealand Soil Conference

Lockwood PV, Wilson BR, Daniel H and Jones MJ (2003). Soil Acidification and Natural Resource Management – directions for the future. University of New England, Armidale.

Schumann B and Glover S (2002). Soil Acidity has an effect beyond the paddock. Leaflet 8 of the Acid Soil Management Series, Acid Soil Action Programme, NSW Department of Primary Industries.

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