Soil health es­sen­tial to farm health

Matamata Chronicle - - Ru­ral De­liv­ery - By BALA TIKKISETTY

The trans­for­ma­tion of nat­u­ral cap­i­tal, namely soil, plants and an­i­mals, air and wa­ter into re­sources that peo­ple value and use is gen­er­ally called ecosys­tem ser­vices.

It is a con­cept that is gain­ing more at­ten­tion as we see en­vi­ron­men­tal pres­sure in­creas­ingly ap­plied to re­sources such as soil health, that we once took for granted.

Soil pro­vides ecosys­tem ser­vices crit­i­cal to all of us. In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing habi­tat for bil­lions of or­gan­isms, soil acts as a wa­ter fil­ter and grow­ing medium.

It con­trib­utes to bio­di­ver­sity and solid waste treat­ment, acts as a fil­ter for waste­water and so on.

Soil is the ba­sis for our coun­try’s agro-eco sys­tems that pro­vide us with fi­bre and food and sup­ports our agri­cul­ture in­dus­try.

The Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil soil qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme mea­sures soil prop­er­ties such as soil com­paction, nu­tri­ent sta­tus, bi­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and soil car­bon at 145 sites, with about 30 sites each year sam­pled in the re­gion. The sites cover a range of soils and land uses re­gion­ally.

The main soil qual­ity is­sues iden­ti­fied are com­paction, ex­ces­sive phos­pho­rous and ni­tro­gen on dairy and crop­ping land, and de­clin­ing car­bon on crop­ping land use.

I am happy to say that some of the emerg­ing data trends sug­gest a pos­i­tive change in soil qual­ity, most likely at­trib­uted to im­proved land man­age­ment prac­tices un­der­taken by our farm­ing com­mu­nity. That’s great news.

But some ar­eas still need im­prove­ment.

The fol­low­ing are a few of the is­sues on which we can po­ten­tially fo­cus for de­vel­op­ing good man­age­ment.

Min­imis­ing hu­manin­duced ero­sion and main­tain­ing good soil qual­ity are es­sen­tial for main­tain­ing soil ecosys­tem ser­vices such as nu­tri­ent and wa­ter buffer­ing, pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity, as­sim­i­lat­ing waste, and min­imis­ing im­pacts of sed­i­ment and other con­tam­i­nants on wa­ter bod­ies.

Other good prac­tices in­clude op­ti­mum cul­ti­va­tion, avoid­ing over­graz­ing and heavy graz­ing un­der wet weather lead­ing to com­paction, avoid­ing un­der or over­fer­til­i­sa­tion, prac­tic­ing ap­pro­pri­ate use of pes­ti­cides and other agro­chem­i­cals, man­ag­ing pas­ture to main­tain com­plete soil cover and care­ful ap­pli­ca­tion of farm dairy ef­flu­ent to avoid sat­u­ra­tion and op­ti­mise or­ganic mat­ter.

There is ev­ery ben­e­fit in pro­tect­ing the sen­si­tive ar­eas on farms.

Wet­lands de­liver a wide range of ecosys­tem ser­vices such as im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity, flood reg­u­la­tion, coastal pro­tec­tion, and pro­vid­ing re­cre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties and fish habi­tat. A good way of de­scrib­ing soil qual­ity is to re­late the prop­er­ties of the soil to the use we want to make of it.

A good qual­ity soil is one which will serve the pur­pose we have for it with min­i­mum mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil con­tin­ues to work with the farm­ing com­mu­nity, farm­ing in­dus­try and other stake­hold­ers to in­crease the un­der­stand­ing of the above is­sues and pro­vide ad­vice on sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture prac­tices to de­crease the im­pact of re­source use.

Soil is a very valu­able as­set for farm­ers.

It is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to make use of soils with­out dam­ag­ing ei­ther the soil or any other part of our en­vi­ron­ment, pro­tect­ing them for our own use and use by fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

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