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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.



History of Soil Science in New Zealand

In New Zealand, soil science has evolved in four stages, each characterised by a different approach:

  1. 1867–1900: “Manures” and agricultural chemistry.

  2. 1900–30: “Soil surveys”, field trials, and pot tests.

  3. 1930–45: Pedology – study of the soil as a natural body.

  4. 1945–64: Soil science – study of the soil and its relationship to land use.

The first stage was dominated by Liebig's philosophy that productivity depends on maintaining the correct balance of mineral elements in the soil and, consequently, was characterised by chemical analyses of soils and fertilisers. Complete analyses of soils, however, proved insufficient to predict plant requirements. In the second stage the soil in place became the focus of study. Experiments with crops were undertaken systematically on plots in the field and in pots of soil in the laboratory and, at the same time, attempts were made to map soils into units that could serve as a basis for predicting fertiliser responses and suitable kinds of land use.

In the third stage the approach to soil science changed radically and its utility was enormously increased when attempts at soil survey and classification culminated in full understanding of the modern concept of soil as a natural body. Upon this new concept was founded the science of pedology, which enabled the mapping of soil units that could be used for predicting the behaviour of the soil at any spot. In the latest stage the trend has been towards the integration of soil science in order to make best use of it.

In New Zealand today soil scientists recognise that the soil is changing. An understanding of the processes involved in these changes is regarded as basic; the study of the influence of the soil upon plant and animal is accompanied by parallel studies of the influence of the plant and animal on the soil. Background studies of this kind rank in importance with studies of immediate problems because they are needed to provide data for unsolved problems and for problems of the future.