AGMARDT Grant 20735B: Farmer practice to enhance soil quality
Provide the industry with tools to monitor and manage low yields and variability in onion yield and bulb quality.
Collaboration with Mark Fisher, Kotare Bioethics as part of a larger project with AgResearch
Observations, measures and practices used to understand, maintain and enhance soil quality were assessed during qualitative interviews of nine farmers and processors responsible for much of the cropping on the Heretaunga Plains.
The attributes of a healthy soil included having friable structure, being aerated, having organic material, able to produce a good crop, and be available for future generations of farmers. Management
practices used to achieve these qualities included minimising cultivation, reducing compaction, adding compost and growing cover crops, and knowing the soil.
A variety of indicators ranging from visual observations of soil colour and the effort required to cultivate, to the presence of soil organisms and the quality of produce, were used to judge the merit of those management practices.
Beyond these indicators, farmers were guided by a multitude of factors expressed as experience, common sense, organic and biodynamic principles, and nature and natural processes. Even so, there was a keen desire for information and guidance on growing soils, understanding and managing the biological or living component of the soil and soil carbon, and the impacts of various
farming options on soils and cropping, and the viability of farm businesses.
Farmers’ broad or system-like understanding of soil quality provides an invaluable pool of knowledge not only relevant to, and shaped by, the local environment and farmer experiences and needs, but perhaps complimentary to, as well as being a resource for, more formal and scientific knowledge.