Biological nitrogen fixation through the legume-rhizobia symbiosis is important for sustainable pastoral production. In New Zealand, the most widespread and valuable symbiosis occurs between white clover (Trifolium repens L.) and Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. trifolii (Rlt). As variation in the population size (determined by most probable number assays; MPN) and effectiveness of N-fixation (symbiotic potential; SP) of Rlt in soils may affect white clover performance, the extent in variation in these properties was examined at three different spatial scales: (1) From 26 sites across New Zealand, (2) at farm-wide scale, and (3) within single fields. Overall, Rlt populations ranged from 95 to >1 x 108 per g soil, with variation similar at the three spatial scales assessed. For almost all samples, there was no relationship between rhizobia population size and ability of the population to fix N during legume symbiosis (SP). When compared with the commercial inoculant strain, the SP of soils ranged between 14 to 143% efficacy. The N-fixing ability of rhizobia populations varied more between samples collected from within a single hill country field (0.8 ha) than between 26 samples collected from diverse locations across New Zealand. Correlations between SP and calcium and aluminium content were found in all sites, except within a dairy farm field. Given the general lack of association between SP and MPN, and high spatial variability of SP at single field scale, provision of advice for treating legume seed with rhizobia based on field-average MPN counts needs to be carefully considered.