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Arable Land

Arable land relates to the area and extent of land capable without much modification of producing crops.


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Regulating Services


What is arable land and how is it derived?

At the property scale, the area and extent of arable land maybe contained by natural boundaries such foothills, rivers and creeks.

At the regional scale, the area and extent of arable land is all land across SEQ capable without much modification of producing crops.

The availability of arable land is central to a modern western lifestyle. It is essential for the production of food at a level of abundance that not only efficiently produces food but also continues to do so year after year. The catchments of SEQ contain some of the most productive soils in Australia. Remarkable soils with high fertility, good water holding capacity, deep drainage and combined with a mild climate and good quality groundwater, the region has a unique resource. With climate change predictions of a drying climate, combined with peak oil that will impact on transport costs, such valuable lands close to a capital city should be preserved as an essential investment in our future.  

The area and extent of arable land also contributes colour and amenity into the local community's lives. The place names of Redlands, Redcliffe and Blacksoil are all examples of peoples close identification with the land. The productive farmlands of Redlands have been shown in surveys to be a major factor attracting residents to the district over the past decades. The same applies to the gently undulating horticultural landscapes of the Sunshine Coast, the Blackall Range and the other elevated basaltic landscapes of Beechmont and Mount Tambourine. Arable land at the same time provides income and lifestyle for farmers who prefer a diverse but demanding outdoor life.  

Table 1 below presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions contribute to the provision of arable land (relative to other ecosystem functions). The total extent of arable land available in SEQ is determined by the presence of soils with properties conducive to plant growth, gentle slopes and sufficient water to sustain efficient crop production. These conditions are largely met on either alluvial plains or in limited areas under rainforest/wet sclerophyll forest canopies. They are nearly always associated with basalt or sandstone landscapes and are formed by the processes of rock weathering, landscape erosion and sediment deposition.

The total potential extent of arable land is thus fixed by nature and is a function of soil parent material, topography, climate, vegetation, microorganisms, animals and historical human activity. Soil retention is important to maintaining the area and extent of arable land particularly in areas prone to experience extreme events. On some floodplains, arable land has been subject to erosive flooding, and some upland arable lands are not sufficiently protected by vegetation cover, leading to accelerated soil erosion. Smaller areas of arable land have also been lost due to waterlogging and salinity. Wind erosion is not a major factor in SEQ.


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Arable Land.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation

Climate Regulation

Disturbance Regulation

Water Regulation

Soil Retention

Nutrient Regulation

Waste Treatment and Assimilation


Biological Control

Barrier Effect of Vegetation

Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats

Soil Formation

Provisioning Functions

Raw Materials

Water Supply

Genetic Resources

Provision of Shade and Shelter

Pharmacological Resources

Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity



Population growth and development are placing increasing pressures on the area, extent and use of arable land in SEQ.

In the past humans spent most of their time in the gathering and harvesting of food from the resources around them. In SEQ today, food is predominantly produced on farms (or harvested from the sea) and transported to population centres to be purchased for consumption. Originally, the obtaining of food involved the majority of the people in a community. Today however fewer and fewer people or businesses are involved in food production or harvesting. While at the same time larger and larger populations (mostly inhabiting city centres) are demanding greater access to food products and therefore the need for arable land (close to city centres). This means that in areas such as SEQ there has been increasing pressure on food producers to do more with less, while at the same time doing it more sustainably. Arable land has been substantially reduced and irreversibly lost as a result of urban expansion and new infrastructure, driven by population growth. To be maintained, arable land requires planning protection.


Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

The loss of service Productive Soils would directly impact on this ecosystem service. Poor land-use planning and the irreversible loss of arable land for urban or infrastructure purposes is the greatest threat to accessing this service. Co-location with a state capital and rapid population growth mean that arable land in many cases is being commercially valued on its potential urban use, not its agricultural potential. This leads to overvaluation of the arable land and it's potential loss to alternative and incompatible land uses.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.


Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Arable Land contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            



Yield performance is one indicator of the sustainability of arable land.

Links to other publications and websites

Good Quality Agricultural Land - Qld
Arable land in Australia
World Bank - arable land
Global statistics on arable land

The quality and sustainability of arable land being provided could be assessed by monitoring the following indicators. These are the yield performance of the commonly grown crops (accounting for weather and disease factors), the gross economic value of crops in the region, combined with indicators for Productive Soils. To determine whether the service is being maintained, indicators to use include land use mapping or land cover (SLATS) mapping combined with mapping of land suitability. There are significant gaps in the extent and quality of land suitability assessment in SEQ.  


How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

For industry specific information, grower groups like Growcom and the agricultural component of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Department of Natural Resources and Mines should be approached. The State Planning Policy 1/92: Development and the Conservation of Agricultural Land sets out principles to guide the protection of this important natural resource and affords some protection of arable land. The SEQ Regional Plan 2009 - 2031 is also an important document associated with maintaining this ecosystem service particularly outside the urban footprint.