The soil quality monitoring programme is a screening tool designed to gather a large amount of information quickly and at a low cost to inform detailed environmental assessment of the regions soils.
Waikato Regional Council monitors soil quality at 150 sites across the Waikato region. Soil quality monitoring sites were selected to include the dominant soil types and main land use types in the region.
Waikato Regional Council re-measures soil characteristics at a fifth of the sites (20 percent) each year. Each site is sampled approximately every 5 years.
Measurements of soil quality began in 1995 and have continued through to the present. This programme is aligned with national soil quality monitoring as established and administered through the Land Monitoring Forum. Waikato Regional Council has now built up a baseline soil quality database to compare changes in soil quality against.
Seven key soil quality characteristics are measured for each soil quality monitoring site. Soil samples are taken at each site and soil characteristics are analysed in the laboratory. Landcare Research carried out laboratory analyses of the baseline soil samples following standard laboratory procedures.
The table below lists the soil quality characteristics measured.
|Soil characteristic||What the measurement tells us||How it is measured|
|Total carbon (C)||Organic matter status||Dry combustion, Leco CHN Analyser|
|Total nitrogen (N)||Level of organic nitrogen reserves||Dry combustion, Leco CHN Analyser|
|pH||Level of acidity or alkalinity||Glass electrode pH meter, 1:2.5 in water|
|Olsen phosphorus (P)||Level of plant available phosphate||Bicarbonate extraction, with phosphate in the extract measured using the molybdenum blue method and ascorbic acid reductant|
|Mineralisable nitrogen (N)||Level of readily mineralised nitrogen reserves||Accumulation of NH4+ following waterlogged incubation (5 g soil in 10 ml water) at 40°C for 7 days|
|Bulk density||Degree of soil compaction||Volume and mass of soil cores oven dried at 105°C|
|Macroporosity||Degree of soil compaction, quality of root environment, amount of aeration.||Drainage on pressure plates at a tension of –10 kPa|
The soil quality indicator is expressed as the percentage of the region’s productive land area (divided into four key land use types) that meets (or fails) soil quality guidelines. The indicator is based seven key soil quality characteristics, which are analysed and aggregated.
The following steps explain the process used to compile the indicator:
Table 2: Weighting factors for each broad land use type and soil combination in Waikato region
|Land use||% of regional land area|
|Pasture - dairy||25.3|
|Pasture - other||32.1|
Once the exceedance data have been corrected for bias, they are divided by the total regional land area to give the area in hectares for each land use type that meets (and fails) soil quality guidelines.This can then be expressed as the percentage of the region’s land area (by land use type) that has either satisfactory soil quality or soil quality ‘of concern’.
Guidelines values for each soil quality characteristic were defined for key land use types and soil classes at a series of expert workshops in 1999. For more information about the guideline values used, check out the Landcare Research web-page explaining the approach used to develop a web-based soil indicators tool (SINDI(external link)).
Soil quality indicators and guideline ranges are still being developed and have not been validated for all soil and land use combinations. Therefore, guideline ranges may be refined over time.
Because soil quality indicators and guideline ranges are still being developed, there may be changes in the recommended ranges or more detailed land use types may be added. Current soil quality guidelines are taken from “Provisional targets for soil quality indicators in New Zealand", published by Landcare Research in 2003.
Soil samples were processed at the Landcare Research laboratory, which is Telarc registered and ISO 9000 accredited.