Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research soil programme linkages give strength in numbers
During the last year at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research we have greatly expanded our suite of soils research programmes, due to successful funding bids for new multi-year projects from MBIE and MPI. As shown in Figure 1 (below), these new programmes will help us answer some of the big questions in soil research and will have impacts for generations to come. This new research will provide understanding of how key soil properties, such as soil carbon and water-holding capacity, change under different management practices across a wide range of New Zealand’s soil environments. The strong linkages of these programmes with farming industry groups will ensure application of the knowledge generated to help farmers in their ongoing efforts to reduce the impacts of management practices on the environment.
Despite these new projects being stand-alone programmes, we have worked hard to ensure they are well connected to use resources efficiently and maximise benefits. Using measurements taken from common sampling sites for multiple research projects increases efficiency, allows us to build on previous knowledge, and look in greater depth at the variables at play.
For example, Paul Mudge’s SLMACC project will sample 50 sites on adjacent irrigated and unirrigated grassland soils to clarify the impact factors such as soil type and irrigation duration have on soil organic matter. Some of the sampling sites are shared with Sam Carrick’s new sustainable farming fund project, which looks at how irrigation affects the water-holding capacity of soils. This information will also link through to the S-map Next Generation programme where there is a major effort to better characterise the soil water attributes of New Zealand’s soils – key soil information that is used for both irrigation and nutrient management purposes. Research in the Maximising the Value of Irrigation programme further enhances the understanding of soil water dynamics in arable soils, and how sensing technologies can improve irrigation practices. Other sampling sites are in common with Bryan Stevenson’s project that looks at integrating knowledge on long-term soil health and resilience with kaupapa Māori concepts to develop a nationally consistent soil health framework and best practice guidelines to increase productivity within environmental limits. A multi-disciplinary MBIE Endeavour programme led by David Whitehead is investigating ways to manipulate carbon and nitrogen cycling to reduce nitrogen losses. This programme is part of a number of multi-agency collaborative research programmes based at Ashley Dene Research and Development Station. Ashley Dene was set up by Lincoln University as a working-farm platform that enables researchers to develop and test next generation management practices for dairy farming on the stony soils that are widespread in the eastern plains of New Zealand. The following articles contain more detailed information on each of the new research programmes.
The vast amount of data that is being collected in these, and other Manaaki Whenua projects, is also a driving factor behind progress in the National Soils Data Repository (NSDR). The National Soils Database (NSD) contained records for soil observations of around 1,500 soil profiles dating from 1959. However, funding cuts meant that data collected after 1994 were not added into the NSD, leading to a substantial backlog of historic data that have limited long-term usability and impact until they are all integrated within a centrally curated database. Manaaki Whenua has invested significant funding over the last 2 years to rebuild the NSD, now called the NSDR. The repository has been designed to meet modern international database standards, has a capacity for multiple types of soil data, and is now ready to receive new data. It is Landcare Research’s intention that all new soil data collected will be uploaded into the NSDR, and an app is currently being developed that will allow pedologists to upload soil information (including measurements, photos, and GPS coordinates) directly from the field. We are also hopeful that central government will contribute to the maintenance of the NSDR, when a review of investment from the Nationally Significant Collections and Databases fund is carried out over the next year. This will guarantee the soils data collected by New Zealand scientists over many decades will continue to be freely available for research, increasing understanding of soils and the impact they have on the wider environment, ensuring that our land remains healthy and productive into the future.
Mannaki Whenua – Landcare Research