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Soil – More Important Than You Think

An I Love Soil Educational Resource

Most people agree that New Zealand is a great place to live. In world rankings, we are thought of as a healthy, comfortably well-off place. Much of this is due to soil beneath our feet.


New Zealand is a GREAT place to live!

Soil & The Economy


Agriculture is hugely important to the New Zealand economy. We raise cattle for dairy and meat, sheep, deer, poultry, pigs and goats. Farmers grow grain, vegetable and fruit crops. Vintners produce wine. Forestry provides timber and building materials. Even our fisheries have a connection to the soil. All up, our primary industries are directly or indirectly responsible for about 3/4 of our export earnings.

Take a step away from the land and move to the cities and towns. There is an army of workers to support those who produce our food and fibre – from the people who work in sawmills, freezing works and dairy factories, to those who supply equipment, provide transport or give advice.


Healthy soil produces healthy food

Soil & Health


Human health is directly related to soil health. It’s not just the amount of food we grow, but the quality of the food, too. Micronutrients in food come from micronutrients in the soil. According to the United Nations, over two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies – particularly vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc. In New Zealand, farmers supplement the soil with fertilisers to balance the micronutrients needed for healthy plant, animal and human growth.

Soil also helps to clean and store our water. Soil acts as a filter to trap pollutants and prevents them from leaching into groundwater or moving into rivers and lakes. Soils store fresh water under the ground and help to replenish rivers and lakes.

Even some of our medicines come from soil – or more precisely, from the microrganisms that live in soil.


Kiwis and their pets are keen gardeners

Soil & Enjoyment


One of the most obvious links to soils and enjoyment is gardening. Kiwis are keen gardeners whether it is vegetables or flowers.

Soils are important as sports surfaces. Sometimes the sport is played directly on the soil like with BMX tracks, clay tennis courts, or horse racing. Cricket pitches require a special mix of soil to ensure both good turf growth and good drainage.


Erosion exposes tree roots

Soil & The Environment


We only have one Earth and a finite supply of resources from the Earth. Our planet has been around for a very long time. Food, water, nutrients and minerals are recycled over and over again. Soil plays a big part in this process. Soil microorganisms recycle nutrients like carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.

Soil plays a part in climate change too. Soil acts as a sink (Storage) for carbon. There is more carbon under the ground than there is above the ground – that includes all people, animals, plants and atmospheric carbon!


Road showing erosion on hillside

Protecting Soils


Soil is one of the Earth’s finite resources and we need to look after it. The UN estimates that soil covering an area as big as the country of Costa Rica is lost every year to erosion, compaction, and pollution.

Expanding cities and roads cover the soil so we cannot use it. Intensified cropping can deplete the soil of nutrients. Intensified farming of animals for meat or dairy may lead to too many nutrients entering into the waterways from animal excreta (poos and wees).

Pollutants and heavy metals from old mines, timber treatment or sheep dips contaminate the soil. Pollutants can be taken up by plants and passed along to those who eat them. Local and national government agencies have policies to prevent or minimise pollutants.

Activity Idea

The activity Milk, Meat, Wine & Wheat explores the link between soils and land use/primary production.


Dig Deeper

Watch these short videos: What’s soil got to do with foodWaterMedicine?

Check out this website for a list of New Zealand’s contaminated land sites.

A lack of cobalt in the soil causes bush sickness in sheep. This article from Te Ara talks about its discovery and cure.

Gardening is an enjoyable past-time for many, but soil actually contains bacteria that mirror the effects of antidepressants. Check out this article to learn more.

Other Resources in the I Love Soil Series

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