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Soil ecosystem services are vital

Soil ecosystem services are vital

By Bala Tikkisetty

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, with about 30 sites each year sampled in the region. 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. I am happy to say that 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.

But some areas still need improvement. The following are a few of the issues on which we can potentially focus for developing good management.

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, practicing 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.

Waikato Regional Council continues to work with the farming community, farming industry and other stakeholders to increase the understanding of the above issues and provide advice on sustainable agriculture practices to decrease the impact of resource use.

Soil is one of the most valuable assets that a farmer has. It is our responsibility to make use of soils without damaging either the soil or any other part of our environment, protecting them for our own use and use by future generations.

Bala Tikkisetty is a sustainable agriculture co-ordinator at Waikato Regional Council.

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