Aimee Robinson

Growing up in urban South Auckland seems a world apart from working with South Island farmers, but for Ballance Agri-Nutrients’ Aimee Robinson she’s exactly where she wants to be.

Aimee is the upper South Island representative for Ballance’s Science Extension Team, working with farmers from Canterbury, Marlborough and the West Coast. She advises them in ways to achieve increased on-farm productivity, through more efficient and effective nutrient management. For Rolleston-based Aimee, the role is a perfect fit.

“Everything on earth relies on soil, it’s the basis for agriculture and human society”, she says, “so it’s incredibly rewarding to work closely with farmers, who are so knowledgeable already, to continually improve the way we use the soil.”

A graduate of Lincoln University, Aimee has a Masters in Soil Science and a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science. Despite not coming from a farming background, Aimee loves working in the agricultural industry and has found the farming community to be very welcoming.

“They are very accepting and welcoming as an industry and community. Farmers love sharing, you learn so much by asking them”, Aimee says.

Besides some good natured ribbing from farmers regarding her Auckland origins, Aimee finds that her educational background, industry experience and genuine interest in the community has helped to establish a great rapport.

“If you’re honest and willing to put in the time to understand their particular situations, goals and challenges, then they respect you for that. If they trust you, they’ll trust your advice.”

Besides working with individual farmers, she also runs educational workshops. Not just for those in the agricultural industry but also workshops aimed at school aged children and people in urban areas. She notes how important it is to present an accurate view of the agricultural industry and especially to reverse the misconception that farmers don’t care about the land and environment.

“When you talk to farmers, it’s immediately clear that looking after the environment is important to them” she says.

“By working together we are able to change on-farm systems for the better, using the latest developments to maximise production and create more efficient product use.

In the end, this is better for the environment and better for the soil.”


Brett Robinson – Reducing Leachates and Improving Profits with Native Plants

New Zealand native plants can be incorporated into farming systems to increase profits and reduce harmful contaminants entering waterways.
Brett Robinson is part of a team from the Departments of Ecology and Soil Science at Lincoln University looking to develop planting systems that not only improve the landscape but also maximise the innate potential of the root systems of some New Zealand species to intercept environmental contaminants before they enter waterways.
The potential of native plants to manage nutrients and contaminants has been given added emphasis as our waterways come under increasing pressure from the intensification of farm systems.
It’s been established that a well-managed riparian margin can filter out some contaminants from farm run-off. This is said to help improve water quality and in turn, stock are likely to benefit from improved animal health.
This research looks at native species to see if they can not only improve the aesthetic and conservation benefits of the farming landscape but also reduce contaminants and provide economic benefits for the farmer.
Phytomanagement describes the use of plants to improve environmental outcomes while at the same time producing something valuable.
Good examples of these among NZ native plants would be manuka and kanuka.  Both plants are Biological Nitrogen Inhibitors (BNI) which means they inhibit the transformation of the ammonium in the soil into nitrate, which can leach into groundwater. Both also have value as economic crops – manuka for honey and oil and kanuka for firewood and oils.
Other examples of potentially profitable species include native species such as the broadleaf and akeake that can be used as a fodder supplement to provide high concentrations of essential micronutrients that are often lacking in New Zealand farms. As the species mature, they also provide windbreaks and shade for stock.
Critical to the success of such plantings is an understanding of the belowground processes that occur in the soils beneath the native trees.
The research team from Lincoln are using advanced techniques to measure the movement of nutrients and contaminants under native ecosystems to develop optimal planting strategies for a variety of New Zealand farming landscapes.
Preliminary research indicates that planting native species on agricultural land definitely offers some advantages in terms of nutrient and trace element management.