22 Dec 2014

Signs of new interest in soil science

5:18 pm on 22 December 2014

Soil scientists worried about a decline in the numbers working in that field have taken heart at signs that interest may be growing among a new generation of scientists.

Science Strategy Manager at Ballance Agri-Nutrients, Warwick Catto said a national soil science conference in Hamilton earlier this month was notable for the number of younger scientists attending.

And he was hoping that showed interest was on the rise, because as he pointed out, the soil and what it produces was the basis for much of the country's economy .

"There were a lot of young people in the audience, which is either a reflection that I'm getting older, or that there are lot of people looking at careers in soil science and I think the latter is that there are issues going on with soil, be it nitrogen leaching, soil erosion into water water ways.

"It's becoming really, really important and I think it's a reflection of the need to invest more in soil science, which hadn't been funded that well in the 1990s, basically.

It's a major capability gap that we've seen. We've been funding a lot of soil science work in recent times, but most of the scientists that you're dealing with are on the way to retirement and the key issue is we need new young people coming through and I guess that's what we saw in Hamilton, so it's great to see.

"If you go to an area like Canterbury where they're trying to deal with nitrogen limits, one of the major factors is knowing what soil type you're on and how best to manage it and that's the skill of understanding soil types, their characteristics, what is or isn't important, how you manage it, hasn't been there and so that's been quite a vacuum.

"So there's significant investment starting to go into that area, because that's the knowledge we need to address that problem."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs