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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Organisation of Soil Science

Owing to the economic importance of soils in New Zealand, many organisations are actively interested in various branches of soil science, and especially in the following fields:

Organisations working in these fields fall into four main groups: Government Departments, research associations, universities (especially the agricultural colleges), and research institutes and other bodies. In their research activities they tend to concentrate either upon filling in a part of the broad background of soil knowledge or upon problems of immediate concern. Consequently, in order to solve problems that extend beyond their chosen field, they cooperate on joint projects. Their spheres of interest are outlined below.

Government Departments

Several divisions of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research undertake soil and related studies. The Soil Bureau contains research sections dealing with soil survey, soil chemistry, soil physical chemistry, soil physics, soil biochemistry, soil biology, and soil engineering. It is occupied principally with basic soil investigations, many of which are long term, and it cooperates with other organisations which investigate problems of immediate concern. The Grasslands Division undertakes soil-fertility studies on the interaction of pasture plants, fertilisers, animal dung and urine, earthworms, and animal grazing. It also investigates losses of soil fertility by cropping and leaching, the nature of changes of organic matter in soils under pasture, and various aspects of plant nutrition. The Crop Research and Fruit Research Divisions and the Tobacco and Hop Research Stations study the requirements of special crops.

The Department of Agriculture has several divisions undertaking soil-fertility work. The Agricultural Research Division, which has its headquarters at Hamilton, provides the main research services for the Department and maintains several research institutions. In the North Island it has the Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre with a soil research station at Rukuhia, and animal research stations at Ruakura, Whatawhata, and Manutuke, as well as the Levin Horticultural Research Centre and the Wallaceville Animal Research Centre. In the South Island it has the Winchmore Irrigation Research Station, the Taieri Soil Research Station, the Invermay Research Station, and the Taieri Diagnostic Station. Among its activities the Division studies fertiliser requirements of soils, pastures, and farm crops, and has field trials for this purpose on farms throughout the country. It investigates other current soil-fertility problems such as those associated with irrigation, soil drainage, or rhizobium inoculation for clover and lucerne establishment. It makes soil analyses for farmers, undertakes field research on soil-conservation problems, studies problems of vegetable and fruit production, and investigates mineral-deficiency diseases and other problems of animal production. The Farm Advisory Division maintains an advisory service for farmers and undertakes studies of land use and land management as well as farm economic studies. It includes soil conservators who make soil-conservation surveys, devise farm plans for conservation farming, advise farmers on soil-conservation problems, and cooperate with the soil conservators of catchment authorities. In addition, it has stations on soil-conservation reserves located in districts where soil erosion is a problem. The Animal Industry, Dairy, and Horticulture Divisions also maintain advisory services. All these advisory divisions cooperate with the Research Division and other organisations engaged on soil studies.

The Lands and Survey Department undertakes land-classification surveys and, with the Maori Affairs Department, studies soil/land-use relationships in connection with new land-development projects. The New Zealand Forest Service maintains the Forest Research Institute at Rotorua, which studies the nutrient requirements of trees, the relation between tree nutrition and soil fertility, and the soil changes that occur under trees. It also has forest and range experimental stations at Rangiora and Napier for study of the soils of mountain lands with particular reference to erosion and vegetation. The Ministry of Works administers the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Council, the policy of which is implemented by Catchment Boards and other catchment authorities throughout the country; the Governemnt soil conservators, however, are under the Department of Agriculture. The Ministry also has a central laboratory to provide information for earth dams and roading projects. The Department of Health investigates the relation between human health and soils.

Research Associations

The research associations are cooperative organisations supported by Government and industry. The New Zealand Fertiliser Manufacturers' Research Association, Auckland, provides an information service for the industry and studies problems related to the production, distribution, and use of fertilisers, particularly phosphates. The New Zealand Pottery and Ceramics Research Association, Lower Hutt, investigates clay materials for the ceramics industry.


Education in soil science is provided mainly by the agricultural colleges, but is also included in geography courses in all the universities. A lecturer in pedology is attached to the Geology Department of Victoria University. Canterbury Agricultural College at Lincoln undertakes research on soil/plant relationships, including the accumulation of organic matter, the competition for nutrients between grasses and clovers, the sulphur cycle in soils, and leaching losses from limed pastures. Massey Agricultural College, Palmerston North, investigates phosphate fixation and soil-drainage problems.

Research Institutes and Other Bodies

Cawthron Institute, Nelson, undertakes the mapping of soils in the Waimea County, in collaboration with Soil Bureau, and investigates soil-fertility problems associated for the most part with the district. The Tussock Grasslands and Mountain Lands Institute, Lincoln, investigates the management of native grasslands, with particular reference to improving the vegetation to mitigate soil erosion and minimise flooding. The New Zealand Meat and Wool Boards maintain a Sheep and Beef Cattle Survey, which investigates animal diseases and other problems related to the soil, and the New Zealand Dairy Board supports the Herd Improvement Department, which investigates similar problems in dairy cows. One or two private companies undertake soil analyses for farmers.

by Ivan Joseph Pohlen, M.A., Soil Bureau, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Taita.

  • A Descriptive Atlas of New Zealand, McLintock, A. H. (ed.) (1959)
  • Soils and Land Use, Taylor, N. H., Pohlen, I. J., and Scott, R. H. (1959)
  • Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Soil Science No. 4 (1960). “The Impact of Man on Soils”, Gibbs, H. S.
  • Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Vol. 82 (1955), “The Role of Soil Science in New Zealand Problems”, Taylor, N. H.
  • New Zealand Soil Bureau Bulletin, No. 5. (1954)