Keep­ing up with qual­ity of soil es­sen­tial chore

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery - By BALA TIKKISETTY

Afall in soil qual­ity can sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect the en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity of farm­ing.

Such losses take con­sid­er­able ex­pense and many years to cor­rect and can in­crease the risk of ero­sion by wa­ter or wind.

So safe­guard­ing the soil for present and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions is a key task for land man­agers.

Gen­er­ally, not enough at­ten­tion is given to the ba­sic role of soil qual­ity in ef­fi­cient and sus­tained pro­duc­tion, main­tain­ing wa­ter qual­ity and the ef­fect of soil qual­ity on the farm’s gross profit mar­gin.

Farm­ers and land man­agers need to be able to iden­tify and pre­dict the ef­fects of their short and long-term land man­age­ment de­ci­sions on soil qual­ity.

Re­li­able tools are needed to help make such de­ci­sions.

The Vis­ual Soil As­sess­ment (VSA), de­vel­oped by well-known soil sci­en­tist Gra­ham Shep­herd, has been a good tool in as­sess­ing soil qual­ity at farmer level and the re­sults are easy to in­ter­pret and un­der­stand.

VSA pro­vides a use­ful ed­u­ca­tional and vo­ca­tional train­ing tool for those un­fa­mil­iar with soil science.

It cre­ates a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of soil qual­ity and its fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance to sus­tain­able re­source and en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment.

In par­tic­u­lar, VSA has de­vel­oped a greater aware­ness of the im­por­tance of soil’s phys­i­cal properties (such as soil aer­a­tion) in gov­ern­ing soil qual­ity and on-farm pro­duc­tion.

Many phys­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal and, to a lesser de­gree, chem­i­cal soil properties show up as vis­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics. Changes in land use or land man­age­ment can markedly al­ter th­ese.

Re­search in New Zealand and over­seas shows many vis­ual in­di­ca­tors are closely re­lated to key mea­sure­ment-based in­di­ca­tors of soil qual­ity. Th­ese re­la­tion­ships have been used to de­velop VSA.

The VSA Field Guide helps land man­agers as­sess soil qual­ity eas­ily, quickly, re­li­ably and cheaply on a pad­dock scale. It re­quires lit­tle equip­ment, train­ing or tech­ni­cal skills. By as­sess­ing and mon­i­tor­ing soil qual­ity with VSA, and fol­low­ing guide­lines for preven­tion or re­cov­ery of soil degra­da­tion, farm­ers can im­prove their sus­tain­able land man­age­ment prac­tices.

VSA presents vis­ual as­sess­ment of key soil state and plant per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors of soil qual­ity on a score­card.

Soil qual­ity is ranked by as­sess­ment of the soil in­di­ca­tors alone. This does not re­quire knowl­edge of pad­dock his­tory.

Plant in­di­ca­tors, how­ever, re­quire knowl­edge of im­me­di­ate crop and pad­dock his­tory.

Be­cause of this, only those who have this in­for­ma­tion will be able to com­plete the plant in­di­ca­tor score­card sat­is­fac­to­rily.

The new sec­ond edi­tion of the VSA is a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment partly be­cause it is bet­ter able to as­sess soil con­di­tion and plant per­for­mance as a re­sult of a more bal­anced as­sess­ment of soil chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal properties.

It is more strongly cor­re­lated to crop and pas­ture pro­duc­tion and pas­ture qual­ity.

The sec­ond edi­tion con­sid­ers key as­pects of the sub­soil and bet­ter ad­dresses the eco­log­i­cal foot­print of or­ganic car­bon dy­nam­ics and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, in­clud­ing green­house gas emis­sions and nu­tri­ents such as ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus get­ting into water­ways.

Bala Tikkisetty is a sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture co­or­di­na­tor at Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil. For fur­ther de­tails or a demon­stra­tion of the VSA pack­age, con­tact him on 0800 800 401 or email bala. tikkisetty@ waika­tore­gion.govt.nz.

Ir­ri­ga­tion aid: Bala Tikkisetty, sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture co-or­di­na­tor at Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil, says keep an eye on soil.

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