The soils belong to the universe

Soil is the world's most valuable resource. A recent advertisement largely written by a Professor David Bellamy was a wakeup call on how important the soil is to our very existence.

In New Zealand, we have only a few soil enthusiasts so to speak. Professor Walker from Lincoln University, who is now growing vegetables in Christchurch and seen on T.V. is one example. You then have a full range of people, all utilising their own "theories" to run fertilizer companies based on their theory of best practice. You then go right through to the larger fertilizer companies, who also tout best practice.

If there are so many opinions, then who is right. It would appear that the Agricultural Universities are no longer putting enough into soil structures and soil lectures. If you go down to the Canterbury Plains and talk to the farmers there, they will talk soils all day with you, because they are so important, particularly where they are cropping. The soils get turned over every 3 – 5 years, so you can actually see what is going on.

When we were at University, we used to carry a spade around with us, so that we could dig up and look at the soils to enable understanding of what was going on. Also when I was a Valuer, we also had to dig up a bit of soil and actually have a look at it to make sure that it was in friable, well drained condition. I have been involved in a number of pines to dairy conversions and you can only marvel at the soil and the structures and the pasture it produces after 25 – 50 years rest under pine trees.

Interestingly, there is no independent soil authority in New Zealand. Soils are formed over millions of years from dust, erosion of rocks producing chips, pebbles, gravels, sands, silts and clays. These various materials hold and exchange all the essential elements as soil. Soils are a living matter, seething with micro-organisms, worms etc., all using, mixing, burrowing to create a living soil.

We seem to think that the more input we make to our pastures, the faster they will grow, but this is not always true. A P level of 30 is apparently optimum, yet many farmers strive for a P level of 70 plus.

With increases in the price of fuel, we are moving to spraying out pastures which minimizes cultivation and fuel usage. But are these sprays sterilizing the soil and killing the micro-organisms that lie below the surface which are so essential to the soil's stomach or life? Will high levels of Nitrogen input also sterilize our soils, or can soils manage 200 – 300 kilograms per hectare per annum without upsetting the balance?

The avocado industry tried to get orchardists to agree to put on 12 copper sprays per annum. The result would have been dead soil, as worms and many micro-organisms just leave home under heavy copper toxicity.

Golf courses and bowling greens actually spray the greens with a weak solution of copper sulphate to get rid of the worms, so there are no worm casts on top

In summary, we as farmers are only custodians of this land and the soil, for our occupational time. We need to think about what we are doing to a vital and valuable world resource. We need to remember that the soil is alive and needs to be cared for. We need to balance the expectations of productions against reality. We need to think about such people as Bellamy and Walker and listen to what they have to say.

The soils in New Zealand and the world belong to the universe, not us.


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