The University of Arizona

Changes of surface oil nutrients and sustainability of pastoralism on grazed hilly and steep land, South Island, New Zealand.

P.D. Mcintosh, G.I. Ogle, R.G. Patterson, B. Aubrey, J. Morriss, K. Giddens

Abstract


Soil nutrients in topsoils (0-7.5 cm) on grazed hilly and steep land on 2 high country sheep farms with contrasting climate in the upper Waitaki district, South Island, New Zealand, were compared before and after a 14-15 year period. In addition, effects on soils of 2 farm management systems were compared by sampling similar soils on adjacent farms. On a farm with mean annual rainfall of 700-1,000 mm (study area A) that had been fertilised and oversown, and grazed with about 1.6 ewe equivalents per hectare for 14 years, levels of exchangeable cations (Ca, K, Mg) increased in topsoils on sunny slopes, but there was little change on shady slopes. The Ca increase on sunny slopes was the increase to be expected from the amount of Ca contained in the superphosphate applied but increases of exchangeable K and Mg could not be explained by fertiliser additions. There was an overall 29% increase of CEC, 7.5% decline of base saturation, and decline of soil pH by 0.4 units over the 14 year period. On a farm with mean annual rainfall of 500-600 mm (study area B) that had been grazed for 15 years with about 0.6 ewe equivalents per hectare but not fertilised or oversown, levels of exchangeable cations in topsoils declined. Base saturation values declined from 98% to 73% and pH declined by 0.4 units. Losses of Ca and Mg were greater than could be explained by direct effects of sheep grazing and we conclude that processes such as erosion or removal of vegetation and nutrients by rabbits are important loss pathways. In the spatial comparison on land with mean annual rainfall of approximately 1,000 mm, oversown and fertilised soils (grazed with about 1.6 ewe equivalents per hectare) had higher levels of exchangeable cations, organic C and total N than soils that had neither been oversown or fertilised (grazed with about 0.6 ewe equivalents per hectare). Questions of ecological and economic sustainability arise both on the moister and drier high country. On moister land like area A, if lime can be applied economically, and fertiliser can continue to be applied with positive financial returns, oversowing and fertilising may be sustainable on sunny slopes. The sustainability of pastoralism on shady slopes is more problematical. If on drier land losses of topsoil nutrients such as those measured on area B are widespread, they are considered to be unsustainable. Although the nutrients lost could be readily replenished using modest amounts of fertiliser and lime, the changes have occurred concurrently with declines of organic C and total N. Restoration of organic matter levels is likely to require either reduced grazing, or oversowing and application of fertiliser. Because oversowing and fertilising the drier high country is not financially viable except during periods of high commodity prices, both these options would require major changes in farm management and/or financial assistance with soil conservation measures.

Keywords


cation exchange capacity;upland soils;topsoil;New Zealand;sown grasslands;highlands;pH;sustainability;sheep;grazing

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