Economic growth in Australia and the rest of the world is linked to the scale of construction and mining, and the amount of earth moved each year in these operations is difficult to fathom. When distributed evenly across the world’s population, each individual moves several tonnes of earth each year. This paper highlights current and future research initiatives within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Geotechnical Science and Engineering (CGSE) aimed at developing rigorous, mechanics-based models for fundamental ploughing and cutting processes in soils. State-of-the-art physical modelling is integrated with the development of new techniques for analytical and numerical modelling to elucidate and predict the full progression of forces and deformations in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional processes. A new analytical model for cutting in dry sand is presented, and preliminary results from numerical and physical modelling are described. The analyses reveal effects that available models fail to consider and illustrate how the development of rigorous models may facilitate improvements in production and efficiency in earthmoving operations.