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Visual Soil Assessment Launch - Marion Hobbs

Hon Marion Hobbs

Visual Soil Assessment Launch
Don & Alastair Polson’s Waipuna Farm, Te Rimu Road, Mangamahu, Near Wanganui, 11.00am 28 September 2000

Visual Soil Assessment a practical tool for farmers

My thanks to Chris Lester and the team from horizons.mw who have organised today’s launch and who have been so instrumental in bringing the Visual Soil Assessment tool to fruition.

It’s great to be here on the Polson’s farm to help launch the Visual Soil Assessment programme. Sustainable land management is a focus for me this week as just yesterday I met with Alastair (Polson) and his fellow trustees from the New Zealand Landcare Trust to talk about sustainable land management.

So what exactly is this Visual Soil Assessment all about?

Basically, it’s a set of booklets that will be useful for farmers to monitor, understand and better manage their greatest resource – their soil.

The booklets translate many years of accumulated soil science knowledge into a practical and straightforward tool that can be easily understood and used by those working the land.

This “translation” is something we need a lot more of.

The Government invests over $80 million per year in sustainable land management research. Sometimes, not all of this work is presented in a “ready-to-use” format but making it more available to those who can use it is something I want to see a lot more of.

And just by looking at the booklets, you can appreciate why.

They’re well-laid out, informative, are a handy size and will no doubt make themselves at home in the glove box of many well worn farm utes.
Congratulations to all those involved in making them a reality.

In saying that, these booklets represent only the first stage of what is needed to really get the message across.

What we need to make sure of  and not just with these publications  is that the ideas they contain are put into practice.

With this in mind, we are working on a training programme so that the booklets don’t simply become ‘bookshelf’ casualties.

This training, or more accurately, “training the trainers” will be carried out by Landcare Research with the help of regional councils. Just like the development of the booklets, the training is a good example of real working partnerships. The Ministry for the Environment has been able to help through its Best Management Practices Fund, both with the printing costs and with the upcoming training programme.

At this point, I would like to step back and help place the Visual Soil Assessment initiative in the context of the Government’s goals in sustainable land management.

It is fair to say that New Zealand relies on the primary sector for most of its income and wealth. In the long term, for this to continue, we must pay more attention to the environmental sustainability of farming.

We know from both anecdote and research, such as the Green Market Signals report, that our customers in other countries are increasingly demanding evidence of good animal welfare and environmental practices. New Zealand is effectively being asked to justify its clean green image. Even those exporters who do not directly market their products for their environmental qualities benefit from our reputation for producing quality products from a clean environment.

Farmers, as the direct owners and managers of the land, have the greatest responsibility for their land. Keeping an eye on changes to soil properties  often by simply counting the number of earthworms in a spade-full of soil  can help indicate how a farmer is doing in the use  or sometimes abuse  of his or her land.

If you, as farmers, collect this information yourselves, you are more likely to trust and understand the results than if somebody else does the work for you. Not surprisingly, it’s also considerably cheaper!

In the end, we as a Government can only do so much.
It is only you who can really change farming practice.

The key to success is to make the link between good information and improved practices. I hope that the Visual Soil Assessment tool will be a useful first step in helping you to do this.

Thank you.

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