Robin Boom Soil Advisor

June 2017

Working with an independent soil consultant

Robin Boom runs an Independent soil advisory advising farmers on soil fertility issues. Robin has a background as a field technician at the Whatawhata Research Station in the Waikato. During his time there he conducted trials on hill country pastures as part of the team of the Soil and Plant group. Most of the research was looking at pasture species changes and overall dry matter productivity under various grazing management regimes. He also looked at facial eczema spore numbers under various pasture types, and worked on some chemical differences between subterranean clover cultivars.Over the past 26 years of advising farmers on soil fertility issues.

Robin observes that there are no two farms exactly the same, although certain soil types may have common elements which need to be the focus of addressing fertility issues.

Robin says each property has a unique fertiliser history which affects the chemistry of that soil and how plants extract nutrients from the soil.

Volcanic ash soils, for instance, tend to be very phosphate responsive, whereas on pumice soils, common deficiencies arepotassium, sulphur and magnesium, as well as trace elements boron, copper and cobalt.
Peat soils initially need bulk lime applications and are also hungry for phosphorus, potassium, sulphur and trace elements. Some raw peat soils actually leach out phosphorus, and using less soluble forms of phosphate can work better when this is the case. Sedimentary clay soils don’t need as much maintenance phosphorus as volcanic ash soils, but do need more sulphur and lime.
Robin says if farmers are operating with a limited fertiliser budget, it is important to get the most “bang for their buck”. To do this, the weakest links in the chain need to be identified through soil and herbage testing. He acknowledges that farmers are often given conflicting advice between different fertiliser sales people and advisors, and even soil testing laboratories can give differing results depending on the analytical methods used.
Robin says he sometimes finds that farmers who have lived and worked on their properties for many years almost have a gut instinct as to what their soils need, and this is often confirmed by soil and/or herbage test data.

He says improving soil chemistry through correct fertiliser application is one thing that farmers can do to create vibrant pastures, which is the cheapest way to deliver dry matter to feed livestock. Robin adds that spending money on elements that are already at biological optimum is unprofitable, and can be harmful to the soil as well as the environment and the livestock.
Because of this, formulating a balanced soil fertility programme from comprehensive soil and herbage test data, and getting these elements from the cheapest and best providers, ensures healthy soils - and healthy profits.

Robin’s business is built around specialising in getting the minerals in the soil in the right balance to improve the nutritional value of the plants for optimum livestock performance and health. He also works as a fertiliser broker, sourcing the best value products in the market place for farmer clients for their particular farm.

He sends soil samples to Brookside Laboratories in Ohio, USA who do comprehensive soil analyses looking at 14 elements in the soil, as opposed to the standard 6 element soil tests commonly done through NZ laboratories. Robin says plants need 16 elements to grow and animals 17 elements. He says “healthy soil, healthy grass, and healthy stock” is his motto.

Robin also carries out consultancy work for some companies, running trials, writing reports, monitoring pasture dry matter production from various treatments, and advising on grazing management.

Robin maintains that applying large amounts of nitrogen is not sustainable, is environmentally destructive, has bad effects on soil health and is economically questionable. While applying nitrogen can make the grass look deep green - if there is a lack of sunshine, the grass is high in nitrates and crude protein and low in sugars and structural carbohydrates, so it goes straight through the cow and out the back end as liquid faeces. Another problem with artificial nitrogen is it makes grasses more competitive, which can choke out clovers and can also make clovers “lazy” so they don’t fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere.

Grant Davey farms on a 137ha property near Te Aroha. He runs 310 cows - roughly 1 cow to the acre – or 1 cow per half a hectare. He works with Robin Boom and took him on four years ago, because, they’ve “always believed that there was more to fertilizer and the soil than just N, P and K.”   He says Robin is interested in balancing all of the minerals, not just 3 of them.

Grant says they want well-fed cows and want to avoid doing damage to their soils, which can get wet, (in spite of the fact that the 2016/2017 period has been a dry summer).

In general terms the Daveys are happy to try systems rather than just going with the status quo. Grant say he hasn’t been using zinc as a treatment for facial eczema and instead uses humates.

2016 was a particularly tough year for facial excema in the Waikato – but Grant only had one cow troubled by it – and that was a minor issue. They don’t use urea - “it grows grass but it is gutless”. He says a lot of his ideas are from the “old book”. He uses seaweed – and uses that as a lick for his cows along with molasses and salt.