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Greater Appreciation Of Soil

15 December 2004

Award Winner Calls For Greater Appreciation Of Soil

New Zealand needs to value our soils more or run the risk of not being able to sustain our major export industries, says Waikato University Earth sciences department chair Megan Balks.

Dr Balks, who has just been given the rare honour of being elected a fellow of the NZ Society of Soil Science, says much of this country s agricultural wealth and lifestyle is based on soil quality, yet the soil tends to be out of sight, out of mind and unappreciated.

“With an increasingly urban society, many people may no longer feel the strong connection to the soil that our forebears did because they no longer directly use the soil to grow their own food.
”We no longer have a dedicated national organisation focusing solely on soil science, there is less funding available for research and there are fewer pedologists studying soil. Meanwhile, our soils are being lost to urban development, soil erosion and contamination.”
Dr Balks says it was a “significant honour” to be singled out for an NZ Society of Soil Science fellowship.

Her nomination notes that Dr Balks has been actively involved in teaching and research in soil and environmental sciences for around 20 years and has been an outstanding and generous advocate and leader for these disciplines in both university and public communities and in the NZ Society of Soil Science .

Dr Balks began her research career in 1985 as a pedologist in Soil Bureau, Dunedin, where she was engaged in surveys relating to irrigation and salinisation.

In 1988, she shifted north to Waikato University's Earth sciences department, where she undertook doctoral research and publications on the impacts of meat-processing effluent on soil physical properties. Her interest in effluent irrigation has continued with work on sodium accumulation at sites at Waggawagga, eastern Australia, and with the supervision of numerous masterate thesis projects in this area. In addition, Dr Balks has a long-association with Antarctic-based research, encompassing 13 expeditions, many as field leader, since 1990. In Antarctica, she has undertaken field work to examine human impacts on Antarctic soils and soil climate monitoring.

Dr Balks currently hosts a one-hour-long monthly radio show Environmental Matters on Hamilton Community radio, where she discusses environmental issues and research being undertaken in the university and interviews a wide range of people to help explain and promote environmental science and scientists.

Meanwhile, NZ Society of Soil Science awards have also been given to Waikato postgraduates students. These student awards are very competitive, with Waikato, Massey and Lincoln universities nominating candidates each year, says Earth sciences associate professor David Lowe. Waikato's Earth sciences department has an active soils group of around 12 PhD and MSc graduates undertaking a range of enviromental and applied research projects, with support from various crown research institutes and regional councils.

The Morice Fieldes Memorial Award for best PhD thesis, 2004, has gone to John Menneer (now at AgResearch, Hamilton). Dr Menneer is the eighth Waikato University doctoral postgraduate to receive the award since they were first issued in 1976. His doctoral research was in the area of nitrogen fixation by white clover.

His research increased understanding of the processes that regulate nitrogen fixation and legume growth in intensively managed dairy farms. Dr Menneer is continuing post-doctoral research that aims to reduce nitrate leaching and environmental pollution from grazing systems, a topic currently making headlines throughout New Zealand.

The Summit-Quinphos Fertilisers Bursary Award for best PhD student about to enter their third year has gone to Dave Palmer. His doctoral research has demonstrated his high level of expertise in the new soil science discipline of pedometrics that uses geostatistical techniques for mapping soil properties across the landscape.

Mr Palmer is working on the quantification, stratification and interpolation of soil and associated data across New Zealand at a range of scales and is undertaking modelling relevant to plantation forestry management. Supported by a FRST 'Bright Future' scholarship, Mr Palmer is working with scientists in the Centre for Sustainable Management at Forest Research (Rotorua) as well his supervisors at Waikato University.


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