Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

New MBIE research programme preview

Landcare Research has been successful in obtaining long-term MBIE funding in the latest round, including investment for three soil-related research programmes. We briefly preview the research below:

Science to underpin next-generation S-map and smarter land management

Soils are one of NZ’s most valuable and strategic resources, but they are highly complex and variable. Understanding soil variability and behaviour is fundamental to smarter land use and land management decision-making, including on Māori land. In a new programme of research, Sam Carrick, Linda Lilburne, and their team will focus on developing the underpinning science for a next-generation S-map. The research will include the:

  • development of a spatial framework and a flexible technical infrastructure that supports the use of ‘digital soil mapping’ techniques
  • quantification and predictive modelling of soil hydrological attributes that control water flow through soils
  • development of tools and outputs to support different decision-making needs that are more culturally responsive, interactive, and relevant at a range of scales.

Research results will be delivered through S-map Online and facilitated by capacity-building programmes with users. Once completed, this research will substantially reduce uncertainty in soils information and play a valuable role in guiding decision-making. It is envisaged that the improved soil information will underpin regional economic growth and Māori land productivity; inform irrigation development; and support better nutrient management.


Soil ecosystem health and resilience – a pathway to prosperity and well-being

Healthy soils are essential to sustain primary sector production and unlock the potential of Māori land, but pressure on our soils is increasing under agricultural intensification and land use change. In response, the Crown has set a national goal of healthy, resilient soils by 2020. NZ currently lacks agreed ways to assess and quantify long-term soil health, and urgently needs a unified national framework to monitor and enhance long-term soil health and resilience. Current soil health measures focus on short-term soil characteristics, and do not include soil resilience or Māori values.

Bryan Stevenson’s team will use innovative methods to test long-term land use sequences on different soils to determine if land use intensification affects soil characteristics thought to be stable over human lifespans. Understanding whether soils are subject to thresholds from land use intensification beyond which abrupt changes occur, is vital to assessing long-term soil health at local, regional, and national scales. Concurrently, co-project leader Garth Harmsworth will work to define concepts of soil health within a Māori cultural context.

Defining long-term soil health from a Māori perspective and integrating cultural value systems with western science and policy needs will deliver a nationally consistent universal soil health framework. Primary industry, iwi/hapū, landowners, and central and local government can then use this framework to enhance long-term soil health and resilience, ensuring that landowners can increase the productive capacity of soils and meet community and market expectations, while still operating within environmental limits.


Innovative ways to reduce farm nitrogen losses by manipulating carbon inputs

Transforming dry, eastern areas of the country into highly productive farming regions can be achieved through water storage schemes and irrigation. However, as these soils are typically shallow and stony, irrigation and nitrogen inputs need to be managed carefully to avoid increases in greenhouse gas emissions and decreases in groundwater quality. This is crucial to ensure the health of rivers and lakes and meet the cultural expectations of Māori in their efforts to sustain their relationships with te taiao (the natural environment).

In a novel research programme, David Whitehead’s team from Landcare Research, Lincoln University, Plant & Food Research, and AgResearch will investigate the biological processes that modify soil carbon and nitrogen cycling in stony soils, leading to nitrogen leaching and gaseous losses. Their approach involves experimentally manipulating carbon inputs into soils, measuring the impact on nitrogen losses, and using molecular techniques to reveal the biological drivers. This will provide land managers with improved management practices to reduce nitrogen leaching to groundwater and lower nitrous oxide emissions, ultimately enabling them to operate profitably within the nutrient discharge limits set by regional councils. The research will contribute to the government’s ‘export double’ and water quality goals while reducing environmental risk by improving water quality, increasing soil biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and enhancing the exercise of kaitiakitanga (guardianship and protection of the environment).