Flipped soil tipped to help drought prone areas

17 May 2013

Nadia Laubscher

Digging deep: University of Waikato Masters student Nadia Laubscher has won a Fieldays scholarship to look at how soil flipping could help drought-prone areas.

Flipping soil in drought-prone areas has been shown to have positive effects on pasture growth, says a University of Waikato Masters student.

Nadia Laubscher has been awarded a Fieldays Scholarship to help her study soil flipping in the Galatea basin and the effect this has on the soil makeup and moisture retention of the soil.

Practical for drought prone areas

She is supported by Dairy NZ and working under the supervision of Dr Megan Balks and Professor David Lowe, analysing flipped soils in the Galatea basin - an area in the southeast Bay of Plenty notorious for succumbing to drought.

Soil flipping involves mechanically digging into the top 1-2m of soil and tipping it end over end, mixing the different layers of soil. The underlying pumice layers are broken up in the process and buried soil that contains more clay and nutrients are brought to the surface - effectively making a modified soil.

"The soil in the Galatea basin is really drought prone in summer. Farmers there rely on irrigation, bringing in feed, or reducing stocking rates - all things not ideal for farmers," Nadia says.

Soil flipping

"I'm investigating soils that have been flipped in in different, comparing this to a neighbouring control area, and measuring the moisture retention of the soils."

Soil flipping was first trailed in Westport in 1992 to improve drainage by breaking up underlying iron pans. However, it may also provide farmers with an innovative method to improve the moisture retention of their pasture during dry periods.

The New Zealand National Fieldays Society funds the university's New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays Sir Don Llewellyn Scholarship worth $22,000 in total. Nadia shares the scholarship with a PhD student who is looking at decolouring bloodmeal which is used to make bioplastic.

The University of Waikato has a long-standing association with Fieldays - its founding Vice-Chancellor Sir Don Llewellyn was a strong supporter of the event when it began in the 1960s, and the university has for many years been a strategic partner of the National Agricultural Fieldays.

Fieldays takes place 12-15 June this year at Mystery Creek near Hamilton.