Better land management boosting quality of soils
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, 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.
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.
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.
Minimising human induced 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 over grazing and heavy grazing under wet weather leading to compaction, avoiding under or over-fertilisation, practising 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.
Bala Tikkisetty is a sustainable agriculture co-ordinator at Waikato Regional Council. Contact him on 0800 800 401 or bala. email@example.com.