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LANDSCANTM – delivering extension on a landscape basis.

Mike Keys1, Clare Edwards2, Bruce Clements3 and Peter Orchard4

1NSW Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 408, Queanbeyan, 2620,
NSW Department of Primary Industries, Armidale2, Bathurst3 and Wagga Wagga4.


The purpose of this paper is to describe an educational program for graziers that assists them to make better decisions about sustainable land management and to report on outcomes achieved in terms of both knowledge and practice change. It provides an outline of the program, a landscape management workshop series, developed by NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), called LANDSCAN. Originally developed for graziers from the central and southern tablelands of NSW, it has since been expanded to all other variable landscape, temperate pasture zones of NSW.

LANDSCAN was developed to help landholders assess land capability, potential productivity and sustainable land-use using landscape indicators and soil tests. Multiple issues are considered on a whole farm basis rather than in isolation, including land degradation issues such as salinity, acidification and pasture decline. Such issues are outcomes of past and present land management and thus need to be considered as symptoms of the farming system rather than just 'problems'.

LANDSCAN is delivered on-farm, by NSW DPI extension agronomists, soil specialists and livestock officers. There are six sessions with a mix of theory and practical exercises. LANDSCAN provides landholders with skills to evaluate their landscape’s natural resources (pastures, vegetation, topography, soils etc) to identify strengths and weaknesses, exclusions and limitations. It enables landholders to:-

    • use natural indicators to assess paddock potential,

    • better match land-use with land capability,

    • interpret soil tests,

    • understand the causes of various land degradation problems, and

    • prioritise management practices to achieve a balance between production, profit and sustainability on a whole farm or catchment basis.

The final session includes practical assessment of several paddocks to determine management options, balancing conservation and production outcomes. The final exercise is to determine priorities and allocate scare resources and inputs to optimise natural resource management (NRM) and economic outcomes on a whole farm basis. .

LANDSCAN also aligns with the goals of Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) in NSW and several are supporting its delivery. Areas for future development of LANDSCAN are indicated.

Three key learnings: (1) the structure and context of the successful LANDSCAN workshop series, designed to help land-holders make sustainable land management decisions on a whole farm basis; (2) the amount of skill and knowledge change achieved and the landholder reactions after completing LANDSCAN, which substantiate the claim that it is successful; (3) current and future developments that demonstrate the flexibility embodied in the overall framework of LANDSCAN which enables adaptation to different localities, inclusion of the latest research findings and modifications to provide a link and a sound basis to develop practical farm plans.

Key Words

LANDSCAN, landscape management, land capability, sustainable farm management, natural resource management, land degradation.


LANDSCANTM is a workshop series, examining landscape characteristics and management options with producers and land managers. It is delivered on-farm in six sessions, over 4 to 8 months with an equal mix of theory and practical demonstrations or exercises. The overall objective is that participants can make better, more informed on-farm decisions about their landscapes and the allocation of resources to achieve production, profit and sustainability outcomes. These decisions can have wider implications than the farm scale, with natural resource issues affecting the wider catchment.

Many NRM issues are inter-related. Due to the complexity of interactions, these can be difficult to quantify but linkages between soil acidity and dryland salinity for instance, have been identified (Lockwood et al. 2003; Schumann and Glover 2002). Soil acidity and low nutrient levels for instance, both reduce pasture vigour and production and when both constraints are present, the effects tend to be more than additive. For instance, reduced pasture vigour and growth, means greater potential for over-grazing, loss of perennials, lower ground cover, more erosion, reduced water use, more deep drainage, rising watertables and potential to develop outbreaks of dryland salinity. In turn, dryland salinity leads to further pasture degradation, even more erosion risk, lower farm productivity and reduced financial returns.

Poor profitability is a major cause of low levels of investment and inputs on farms, leading to low production, reduced funding for maintenance of infrastructure and often poorer land management practices. If all available funds are used for non-discretionary items, more altruistic practices like setting aside areas of the property for habitat preservation, biodiversity or even for aesthetic purposes, cannot be funded or supported.

Farms are businesses and profit is important. Without profit, a downward spiral of the whole system will occur, made worse by the ever increasing cost-price squeeze. These scenarios demand active, best practice management of all farm resources if farms are to remain viable and natural resources maintained. The old saying “it is hard to be green when you are in the red” is absolutely true. Land managers have and generally exercise, a responsibility to care for the land under their control. This means managing land within its capability while making decisions to achieve levels of production that provide sufficient financial return to maintain the farm’s resources – the land, the people and the infrastructure. As extension officers, we must be mindful of the financial imperative.

LANDSCANTM provides skills and knowledge and a process to help make better decisions to achieve these sorts of outcomes. It covers basic concepts, laws and principles about natural and farmed systems and provides an understanding of cause and effect issues for both production and land sustainability/degradation issues. This knowledge is then used to make better decisions about where to invest available, usually limited funds or resources, to achieve the best production, financial and /or natural resource sustainability outcomes.

LANDSCANTM is available to all landholders/ managers in the slopes, tableland and coastal regions of NSW and over 300 graziers have completed a LANDSCAN course. Currently the cost is $350 which includes a 50% discount by NSW DPI through PROfarm.


LANDSCAN was developed by NSW DPI (formerly NSW Agriculture) extension officers including agronomists, soil specialists and livestock officers, with funding from the then Acid Soil Action program. It evolved from a requirement to develop an extension package for managing soil acidity on the tablelands of NSW. However it became apparent that a single soil degradation issue should not be looked at in isolation. Best practice, especially in variable landscapes, needed to consider at the same time a range of factors such as soil depth, aspect, pasture species present, soil nutrient status, paddock use, topography and so on (Clements 1999). During the evolution and development of LANDSCAN, several pilot workshops and deliverer training workshops were held across the state, enabling continuous improvement to occur along with fine-tuning for specific localities.

Workshops are delivered on-farm using recognised adult learning principles. These include, contextual material, using multi-sensory learning, reinforcement and participatory learning in a rewarding process (Australian National Training Authority 1999). An important feature of adult learning is encouraging 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 workshops. The initial session includes an exploration of participants’ expectations. During the workshops, participants are also encouraged to develop (or modify) their own farm plan, providing a basis for measuring real outcomes after participants have completed LANDSCAN.

LANDSCAN integrates natural resource research, in areas such as soil acidity, salinity, pasture species and grazing trials, with local issues, natural resources and situations. Delivery is by two NSW DPI trained LANDSCAN technical presenters and facilitators with experience in local landscapes and agriculture and a background in soils, pastures and/or livestock. An extensive presenter’s kit includes a PowerPoint based session outline with accompanying notes, outlining presentation and technical issues in more detail. Participants each receive a manual and have access to equipment such as soil samplers and GPS units during the workshops. A second edition of the LANDSCAN Manual was produced in July, 2005 incorporating new information and suggestions for changes from participants and presenters.

As shown in Figure 1, the basis for all sessions is the landscape and its capability. Each half-day session builds on its predecessor. The final full-day session focuses on assessing several paddocks, determining priorities and allocating limited resources (such as finances and time) to reach a balance between production, profit and sustainability. A brief outline and some learning outcomes for each session follows.

Session 1 is “Reading Landscapes” and examines land capability and limitations. A summary of learning outcomes for this session include recognition of visual indicators of land capability, land classes and production potential. Participants examine different land classes on the property where this session is held. Landscape indicators such as associations between trees, pasture types and underlying soil characteristics are highlighted and what they tell the land manager is discussed. One activity is identifying those landscape features that can be changed or modified such as pasture species on arable land and those that cannot, such as slope and aspect. This provides a basis for decisions about management or development options and identifies landscapes where the priority for management is to minimise land degradation, rather than maximise production.

Figure 1 Diagramatic representation of the course structure and topics

Session 2 is “Looking at the Soil” and the learning outcomes include relating landscape features to soil types, understanding properties like texture and dispersion and sampling soils for diagnosis or monitoring. The group examines different soil profiles (using creeks, road cuttings or by digging holes), soil changes associated with position in the landscape and various physical properties including simple tests for texture and structure. Organic matter levels and general soil biology issues are discussed in the paddock and their interactions with soil health. The group studies soil physical properties - presence of rocks, soil depth, texture and water-holding capacity etc and considers how these might affect their paddock management.

An important part of this session is taking soil samples that would be useful for both diagnostic and monitoring purposes. Participants take soil samples from their own properties which are analysed at a NATA accredited laboratory. Samples are taken from two depths (0-10 and 10-20cm) to provide information from both the ‘topsoil’ and the ‘subsoil’.

Session 3 covers “Soil Test Interpretation” and the learning outcomes are: understanding plant nutrition, identifying physical and chemical limitations and interpreting soil tests. To help participants feel more at ease with exploring a sometimes daunting and complicated page of numbers, an analogy is made with more familiar reports (such as a carcase grid or a wool test report). To achieve the best understanding of soil test reports, participants use their own results from at least four paddocks, preferably covering different soils, pasture types or paddock useage/ fertiliser history. Graphs are derived from the group’s soil data and compared to established local benchmark figures.

Session 4 is “Sustainability – cause & effect” and examines the causes and effects of various production and soil degradation issues, often highlighted in the soil tests. The issues include soil acidity, dryland salinity, nutrient depletion, soil erosion, sodicity and soil structural decline. Potential off-farm effects they can create are considered. Basic concepts such as the role of perennials, Law of the Minimum and nutrient cycles are covered. In this session the learning outcomes are to understand the cause and effect of various degradation issues and landscape processes.

Learning outcomes in Session 5, “Tools and Strategies”, are to match enterprises and pastures types to soils and landscapes and employ best management practices to modify or combat nutrient decline, soil acidity, dryland salinity, pasture decline, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity etc. The session examines the various management options for issues identified in session 4 and relevant to the group. Matching pastures and enterprises to soils and landscapes, that is using land within its capability and best management practices are explored. Appropriate management practices are not only considered on a paddock basis but in terms of the whole farm and catchment.

Session 6 “Making Better Decisions” is the climax of the workshop and involves identifying land capability, limitations, management implications and potential productivity of 5 or 6 paddocks to determine appropriate inputs and management strategies to maximise cost-benefit or sustainability outcomes. Working in small groups, the activity is first conducted with no financial limitations and decisions are made on the best management of each paddock in isolation. The exercise then becomes more challenging and realistic, when financial limitations are imposed and so that choices have to be made between paddocks and management options. This is then made more difficult when all 6 paddocks are considered as the “whole farm” for this exercise. 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 process and framework on which to base future decision making on their own properties.


The workshops ideally cater for 12 properties per course, usually comprising 12 to 15 individuals. It has now been delivered to over 300 participants throughout the tablelands, slopes and coastal areas of NSW. Evaluations of participant subject knowledge taken at the commencement and conclusion of LANDSCAN, cover all the main learning outcomes of each session. Answers from the Pre-Course and Post-Course questionnaires (with a maximum score of 100) are compared and the level of knowledge change assessed. Table 1 summarises the knowledge change from several LANDSCAN groups and over 100 participants.


Pre LANDSCAN score

Post LANDSCAN score

% knowledge increase

































The results show an average knowledge increase of 66% with most groups achieving a score of 75% following the LANDSCAN course. Group E did not achieve this but their pre-course knowledge level was quite low as the group was mainly new to farming and from a city background and this group actually had the greatest increase in knowledge at 123%. At an individual level those with tertiary agricultural qualifications or highly skilled in agriculture, tended to score highest initially and have the smallest amount of knowledge gain (10-25%).

Several months after completion of the course, a mail survey is sent out to obtain further information about course content, delivery style and if possible to determine practice change. Responses have been extremely positive in regard to content, length and delivery style. Most respondents were better able to recognise different landscape features on their farm and to assess the strengths and weakness of their paddocks. Ninety percent stated that they were better able to prioritise paddocks for inputs and management options for both production and sustainability outcomes as a result of doing LANDSCAN. Many of the respondents highlighted a desire to get together after the workshop series had been completed, wanting an update or follow-up day twelve months later. Sessions three and six were highlighted as being the most valuable by some, while others thought all sessions were equally valuable. A core outcome is the increased knowledge about and adoption of, technological tools such as soil testing. When asked specifically if, as a result of participating in LANDSCAN, they are better able to take and interpret soil tests, 85% said yes. In addition, 97% said that they would recommend the workshop to others.

General comments gathered from the post workshop mail surveys included the following:-

“This course was one of the most informative I have done”
“We always knew some sections of the farm were better than others…now we have a solid basis to know why they are better”
“The course gave me a new insight into landscape observation and interpretation”
“I particularly appreciated having access to the wide ranging experience of course leaders”
“A very informative & interesting workshop, which will make me think a lot more about improvement strategies, especially involving individual paddocks”.
“Interactions and inputs from participants very valuable”
“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”
“Field trips….most informative. The need to look at pasture types and why they are good for that area is very necessary…. putting priorities on things (was) good.”
Liked “…the local orientation of the course to local conditions...”
“Property development made easy…. the notes of module 5 make an excellent start.”
“As new landholders, this course was absolutely invaluable for us,”
“I used to try to improve the poorest parts of the property – now I understand why it is better to spend money on the better parts.”


The use of adult learning principles, presentation by experienced staff and delivery on-farm through mix of practical and theoretical activities, appear to be features that landholders appreciate. Thus LANDSCAN has been enthusiastically supported by graziers and landholders in the tablelands, slopes and coastal environments with over 300 having completed the course to date.

LANDSCAN encourages participants to consider how to operate within the constraints of their farm landscape and their pasture and soil resources on a whole farm basis. It helps producers to understand the limitations of their natural resources, the costs and benefits of different strategies and how to prioritise inputs. This enables scarce time, labour and financial resources to be put to best use, to achieve whole farm sustainability and production goals.

The following benefits can be gained by using LANDSCAN

  • recognising visual indicators of land capability and production potential
  • knowing the importance of various soil physical properties and good soil sampling techniques
  • understanding plant nutrition and soil test reports; identifying soil physical and chemical limitations
  • knowing the causes of different soil degradation issues, management implications and effects on production
  • achieving best management practice by matching pastures and enterprises to soils and landscapes
  • using the skills and knowledge from LANDSCAN to prioritise management options for individual paddocks on a whole farm basis and develop a practical farm plan.

The workshop series allows participants to make better informed, more rational decisions to match land-use to land capability with production and conservation goals aligned to landscape characteristics. Productivity and sustainability outcomes can be varied for different parts of the landscape and should lead to better environmental outcomes. For example, targeting some areas for high inputs and high production, other areas to reduce or minimise degradation and for low to moderate production, with other areas where the priority is to manage for conservation and/ or biodiversity outcomes.

Looking to the future, to facilitate practice change and to enable this to be better measured, the LANDSCAN development team is currently working on an additional segment that allows landholders to map and develop a property management plan using the paddock assessment techniques learned in LANDSCAN. Most CMAs are keen to have landholders develop or modify a farm plan as a means to gauge progress towards CMA catchment targets, so this additional mapping and planning segment should greatly assist CMAs in the areas where LANDSCAN is run.

Currently there are a number of LANDSCAN courses being run, with support from CMAs in NSW. Some CMA’s view LANDSCAN as a pre-requisite for incentive funding for on-ground works that will help achieve the CMA’s soil, water and vegetation targets. Others provide support by subsidising course costs including soil testing, thus facilitating landholder training and awareness of best management practices.

Finally, LANDSCAN was initially developed for the temperate pasture zone and variable landscapes of the central and southern tablelands. In response to positive landholder feedback, it has already been expanded to include temperate pasture areas in the lower north, central and south coast areas, the central and south west slopes and the northern tablelands. It will probably be suitable for variable landscapes in the temperate, perennial pasture areas of other states. It is not however suited in its current form to drier, less variable landscapes or areas where cropping predominates. Further expansion of the area covered by LANDSCAN may still occur with a new pilot course currently examining the inclusion of sub tropical species and self mulching clay soils on the north west slopes.


The authors would like to express their gratitude to the rest of the LANDSCAN development team for their involvement in and support of the program and to all the farmers who participated in the pilot workshops. The workshop series was developed with funding from Acid Soil Action, a NSW government initiative and the 2nd Edition of the manual printed with funds from the National Heritage Trust.


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. ISBN: 0 7347 1627 3

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, Acid Soil Management Series, Acid Soil Action Program, NSW Agriculture.

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