October 25, 2005 | General


BioCycle October 2005, Vol. 46, No. 10, p. 60
New Zealand officials have created a new center called the Sustainable Land Use Research Initiative which recognizes the importance of soil to their ecological and economic futures.
M.B. Kirkham

DURING the first three months of 2005, I had a sabbatical leave with the Environment Group of the Horticulture and Food Research Institute, Ltd. (“HortResearch”), a Crown Research Institute, in Palmerston North, New Zealand. Two things strike an American visitor to New Zealand: How friendly the people are, and everyone has a compost pile. The warm reception and generosity of the New Zealanders are remarkable. I was invited into the homes of the members of the Environment Group, and each one was composting yard and kitchen waste to use on vegetable and flower gardens. In addition to composting, New Zealanders are willing to pay a premium to buy organically grown food with no pesticides. One friend told me that if individual people did small things like eating organically, in total, it would help the environment.
The emphasis on recycling by New Zealanders reflects their strong concern about the environment. They pride themselves on their “Clean Green” image. For example, when we in America buy wine from New Zealand, we might note on the label, “The riches of a clean green land.” This statement is on the logo of the New Zealand Wine and Grape Industry and shows that members of this group have produced wine without damaging the environment.
Protection of the environment is backed by New Zealand governmental support. The country has signed the Kyoto Protocol, and the government is putting money into determining ways that the country can meet the Protocol’s goals.
In October, 2004, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (, Dr. J. Morgan Williams, who holds the most influential governmental post concerning environmental matters in New Zealand, wrote a report, “Growing for Good. Intensive Farming, Sustainability and New Zealand’s Environment.” The report focused on two key inputs for farming productivity: the high use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation water, which, due to misuse of both, are putting the environment at risk.
Because of the degradation of the soil environment, assessment of soil quality is a high priority. Worm activity and organic matter content are measured as indicators of soil health, along with conventional soil test analysis. Organic and conventional dairy systems are being studied to provide insights into the difference between the two in ecosystem functioning and environmental sustainability. Another mitigation technique is land disposal of dairy shed effluent. The report ends with a chapter, “Moving Forward.” It states that fundamental changes at multiple levels need to be made for sustainability: on the farm, regionally, nationally and internationally. Most importantly, more soil research is needed, if soils are to continue to have the capacity to support farming.
As a consequence, the government has established a new sustainable land use research center. It is a cooperative effort among four Crown Research Institutes that do soil research: HortResearch, Crop and Food Research, AgResearch, and Landcare Research. Dr. Brent E. Clothier, the Environment Group Leader of HortResearch, developed the concept for the cooperative Crown Center. The new center is called the Sustainable Land Use Research Initiative (SLURI) (, and the New Zealand government funds it through FRST – the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. SLURI recognizes the importance of soil and land use research in New Zealand’s ecological and economic futures.
New Zealand needs research for sustainable land use, because soil quality and management support its productive industries. Seventeen percent of New Zealand’s gross domestic product depends on the top 15 cm of the soil, and soil is at the heart of New Zealand’s clean green image. It underpins how the world views New Zealand. Failure to sustain the soil and water resources will put $2.16 billion of New Zealand’s total GDP at risk. SLURI already has several projects underway to study sustainability, including use of organic methods.
A study was started in April, 2005, to compare conventional and organic farming in the important apple and grape growing region of Hawkes Bay. This national center for managing New Zealand’s soils will ensure long-term maintenance and productivity of its land.
Mary Beth Kirkham is Professor in the Department of Agronomy at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. She can be e-mailed at

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