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Research on best practices for productive soil

Research to promote best practices for productive soils gets funding

How can soil surfaces be managed to provide profitable vegetable crops year after year? Finding answers to this question is the aim of a new MAF Sustainable Farming Fund project led by Fresh Vegetable Product Group and Potatoes New Zealand.

Horticulture New Zealand Research and Innovation Manager Dr Sonia Whiteman says many good soil management practices have already been adopted by growers and this project, 'Holding it Together', aims to raise awareness of these established techniques as well as bring attention to other innovative methods that promote sustainable soils.

"Findings from previous initiatives like the Franklin Sustainability project in Pukekohe have shown that best management practices have an important place in profitable cropping systems" she says. "We want to build on what has already been done to ensure a productive and viable industry in the years ahead".

The 'Holding it Together' project is a collaborative initiative between the industry and regional councils including Auckland Regional Council, Environment Waikato, Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Horizons, with additional support from Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

Crop & Food Research scientist Dr Paul Johnstone says a major focus of the program is on preventing soil loss, soil degradation and adverse effects on surface water ways. He notes that growers don't want to see the soil lost either.

"The soil is the foundation of growers' livelihoods and they recognize better than most the value of keeping it in the paddock," Dr Johnstone says.
He says many successful ideas have come from growers experimenting with different approaches in their fields. For example novel trap crops options have reduced wind damage in sensitive row crops, so too wheel track ripping has reduced the incidence of water erosion particularly on sloping land.

"The economics stack up for soil protection. Recent observations in the Hawke's Bay show just how damaging wind and water can be on crop performance and ultimately profit," says Dr Johnstone. He talked of recent onion crops where yields were reduced by more than 50% in areas affected by wind blow or surface ponding.

The project team recently visited Horowhenua, Ohakune, Hawke's Bay and Pukekohe where they discussed the issues firsthand with representatives from the industry and regional councils. One key area of interest was how to retain the structural integrity of the soil and avoid compaction. Dr Johnstone says best management practices that retain the resilience of the soil often enable it to handle adverse weather conditions better.

But growers still recognize there is a place for direct mitigation measures as well, such as silt traps and riparian filter strips. The project will also explore other ways of stopping runoff in the field not at the edge, allowing growers to minimise the costs associated with redistributing sediment.

A feature of the project will be presentations and field days where useful techniques will be demonstrated. Strategic Advisor with Hawke's Bay Regional Council Andrew Curtis says it's about finding solutions that match challenges in each area. "We want to support the industry as they look for solutions that are practical but also effective - we want win-win situations for growers and the environment," he says.


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