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.

Read more

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

6 July 2022

The British Society of Soil Science has published a research article in the Soil Use and Management Journal detailing the latest analysed data from the long-running Winchmore Fertiliser Trial in Canterbury.

The paper was written by Driss Touhami of the Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Lincoln University. Touhami is also a member of the AgrioBioSciences Program, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Ben Guerir, Morocco.

The paper, titled "Effects of long-term phosphorus fertilizer inputs and seasonal conditions on organic soil phosphorus cycling under grazed pasture", was co-authored by Leo Condron Richard McDowell and Ray Moss.  The report can be viewed here.

Read more about the long-running Winchmore trial on the FANZ website here.

25 January 2022

Final-year Lincoln University PhD candidate Kirstin Deuss is the 2021 recipient of the NZ Society of Soil Science/Fertiliser Association of NZ Postgraduate Bursary Award.

The award recognises the efforts and present (or likely) contribution to New Zealand soil science arising from a doctorate study. It carries a $5,000 one-year stipend.

Kirstin holds a BSC in Biomedical Science from Victoria University of Wellington and an MSC in Horticultural Science from the Technical University of Munich, Free University of Bozen (Italy) and the University of Bologna.

Her postgraduate research has seen her lead a long-term field study on soil and catchment hydrology in Southland. The findings will help understand the role mole and tile drains play in Southland’s unique landscape.

“I’m thrilled to have been selected as the recipient of the NZSSS Fertiliser Association Postgraduate Bursary, it is an honour that I will cherish for the rest of my career,” says Kirstin. “I love working with soils and my career objective is to apply my field, research and management skills towards supporting the sustainable management of New Zealand’s soil resources.”

“My PhD has been challenging but also so rewarding, and this award is a real confidence boost as I prepare to start my new career at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research in February. I wouldn't be where I am without the support of my many great mentors, friends and colleagues, who have given me so much of their time and energy to help turn ideas into reality and put it all into the written word!

 “It's truly been the best experience of my life and I am really looking forward to where it is going to take me.”

 Kirstin was nominated by Peter Almond, Associate Professor, Department of Soil and Physical Sciences at Lincoln University. He described her to the judging panel as a “highly adept scientist capable of complex quantitative analysis of soil-hydrological systems”.

“I think she is a deserving recipient.  The prestige of the award would further her goal of securing a position working professionally in soil science in New Zealand so that she can contribute to environmental sustainability of our primary industries.”

Fertiliser Association chief executive Vera Power described Kirstin’s research as “hugely important”.

“The more we can understand what’s happening in our soils and catchments, the better placed our primary sector will be to improve farm management, all while protecting the environment.”  

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