Feeding the world’s growing population

New Zealand’s reputation as a quality food producer is growing.

Optimising food production

Over the next 50 years farmers around the world will need to produce more food than has been grown over the past 10,000 years.

Best use from a limited resource

Fertiliser helps farmers produce food efficiently by replenishing the soil. But fertiliser needs to be used responsibly.

Responsible and sustainable nutrient management

The Fertiliser Association invests in research and tools to ensure farm profitability while minimising nutrient losses to the environment.

The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand promotes and encourages responsible and scientifically-based nutrient management.

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Best management practices for nitrogen use


Best management practices

Choice of fertiliser

  • Use Fertmark registered products

Rate of fertiliser application

  • Nutrient application rates are determined using some or all of the following factors:
    • soil and plant tissue analysis
    • nutrient budgets (including any effluent and/or feed imported to the block)
    • crop type, yield/quality/stocking rate targets
    • the need for capital or maintenance applications
    • previous crop and fertiliser history on the site
    • soil moisture conditions and expected future weather patterns
    • local knowledge
    • feed budgeting/monitoring
    • soil temperature
  • The amount of nitrogen applied per application is limited:
    • on soils where groundwater lies under permeable sediments (e.g. gravels)
    • in areas where there is a high water table
    • on areas where there is subsurface mole and tile drainage
  • Apply nitrogen fertiliser in split dressings of 50kg N/ha when 200kg N/ha or more is required
  • Nitrogen is applied in proportion to other nutrients, according to plant requirements. (Adding excessive N when other elements limit crop or pasture growth leads to greater N losses.)

Application technique

  • Application equipment is suitable for the conditions and fertiliser type.
  • Only Spreadmark accredited spreading companies (experienced operators and calibrated equipment) should be used
  • GPS and GIS technology is used for precise application and for a digital record of fertiliser application locations.
  • Non-target application of fertiliser is avoided by:
    • using fertiliser with larger particle sizes (mean size greater than 1mm) and few or no fine particles
    • application techniques that direct or specifically place the fertiliser appropriately
    • application in bands when sowing crops or pasture seed
    • choice of fertiliser types that can be applied more precisely (e.g. slurry/liquid)
    • applying fertiliser only when any significant wind is blowing away from sensitive areas
    • fertiliser is not applied by air when wind speed exceeds 15 km/hr

Frequency of application

  • Nutrient availability is matched to plant demand.
  • Lower rates of N fertiliser are applied more often, at times to match the growth cycle of the crop or pasture and soil moisture conditions, rather than in single large applications.

Timing of application

  • Nitrogen application is matched to times of high plant growth.
  • Pasture is at least 25mm high (approx. 1000 kg DM/ha) before nitrogen is applied.
  • In the case of border-dyke irrigation fertiliser is applied afterwards, provided the soil is not saturated. If the soil is saturated fertiliser application is delayed until ground conditions are suitable.
  • Nitrogen is not applied when the 10cm soil temperature at 9am is less than 6ºC and falling (at these low soil temperatures plant nitrogen uptake is slow and there is greater risk of leaching loss).
  • Nitrogen is not applied after a dry (drought) period until sufficient regrowth has occurred after rain.
  • Where possible, fertiliser N application is adjusted to complement the release of soil mineralisable N.
  • See the Wise N Use fact sheet for information about the effects on stock of high nitrate in grass.
  • N fertiliser is not applied in mid to late autumn to fallow land unless there is a cover crop.
    N fertiliser is not applied when the ground is saturated and/or when tile drains are running.
  • N fertiliser is applied 4-6 weeks before the feed is required.

Fertiliser use and management measures

  • N fertiliser is not applied to severely compacted soils. Soil aeration techniques are used on such soils before fertiliser application.
  • Pasture is at least 25mm high (approx. 1000kg DM/ha) before N fertiliser is applied.
    Vegetated riparian buffer strips of sufficient width (10m - adjust for slope) to filter any run-off are maintained adjacent to all waterways.
  • Urease inhibitors - can be used to reduce urea losses to the atmosphere when conditions are conducive to volatilisation.
  • Nitrification inhibitors can be used:
    • either with the fertiliser N or
    • applied across the whole area to help reduce nitrogen leaching from urine patches.

The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand and Dairy NZ funded development of the Nutrient Management Adviser Certification Programme (NMACP). This industry-wide certification aims to ensure that advisers have the learning, experience and capability to give sound nutrient advice.

Find out more

30 September 2021

We recently submitted evidence to the Environment Select Committee on proposals to ban nitrogen fertiliser.

11 August 2021

Creating tools to assist farmers to make the right choice on nutrient management is a long and sometimes expensive process. The Fertiliser Association is committed to a journey of enabling New Zealand farmers to meet their goals for profitability and heightened environmental responsibility.

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