Healthy, well managed soil is vital to the Waikato region’s economy. We have many different soils and it’s important we use them wisely. We describe soils in terms of their characteristics, quality and versatility. Different soils are suitable for different land uses.
On this page: Soil supports our region’s prosperity, Soil – more than a load of dirt, Many different types of soil, Soil characteristics, Land capability, soil versatility, soil quality, What Waikato Regional Council is doing , Find out more.
Soil forms the foundation for plant life on land. It’s one of four major life supports needed for our agricultural economy:
Many of the Waikato’s soils are highly productive. They are a precious resource and need to be managed carefully so they remain productive now and in the future.
Soil is alive and ever-changing. It extends from a few centimetres to several metres below the ground’s surface - varying from place to place.
Soil is made up of:
Different soils have different proportions of these basic components, and can be divided into two main groups:
Healthy soil is teeming with life. For example, just one teaspoon of soil contains about 100 billion bacteria and about 15 kilometres of fungal threads. These tiny life forms play a vital role in decomposing plant and animal remains. They release valuable nutrients, making them available to plants.
Find out more about the importance of healthy soil and good soil management.
There are over 600 different soil types in the Waikato region. Different soils have different properties or characteristics. These characteristics mean that some soils will be more suitable for certain land uses than others. For example, some areas have soils and a climate particularly suited to growing pasture grasses, and others are more suited to growing fruit trees.
If you’ve ever dug a deep hole or trench, you may have noticed the soil changing the deeper you go. The upper part of soil contains most of the organic matter and is called the topsoil. Organic matter plays an important role in the health of topsoil because it:
The soil underneath the topsoil is called the subsoil. The subsoil consists of different layers that extend downwards to the rock or ‘parent material’ below the soil. Subsoil can vary in depth from only a few centimetres to several metres.
We can tell different soils apart by looking at the differences in six key characteristics:
There are different methods for working out what different soils can be best used for. Different soils have different characteristics and are located in different micro-climates (with varying amounts of rainfall and sunshine). This results in different limitations on what they can be used for. Find out about land capability classes - one way of assessing the limitations of your land and soil.
Soil versatility provides a more precise way of finding out what land uses best suit your soil type. Soil versatility tests tell you how productive your soil is, based on:
Highly versatile soils are suited to a wide range of uses – including cultivation and cropping, which are very demanding on soil. They often:
The most versatile soils in the Waikato region are found between Hamilton and Cambridge, and around Matamata and Reporoa. However, some of our most versatile soils are being used for urban development, particularly around Hamilton and Cambridge. Find out more about fragmenting rural land.
You can find out more about soil versatility in the Waikato Region using our soil versatility map.
Measuring soil quality is a way of finding out how healthy a soil is. Measures of quality relate to four main aspects of a soil:
Find out more about measuring and maintaining good soil quality.
The Waikato Regional Council measures soil quality as an environmental indicator for the Waikato region and contributes to a national soil monitoring project.
Check out our publications on land and soil.