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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Step 4: Prepare the management plan

Step 4a: Check industry and legal requirements

Compliance with the law is essential, both legally and to meet the terms of this Code. You must comply with the legal requirements which apply to the particular nutrient management activities undertaken on the property. These include those contained in the applicable Regional Council’s plans, enacted through resource consent conditions or through the conditions applying to permitted activities. Some industries have additional requirements.

Ask the relevant industry organisations and/or Regional Council to supply a list of their requirements to ensure that you are fully aware of what applies to local operations. These requirements may not have changed since last year’s NMP was drawn up but it is good practice to check.

Knowledgeable staff will be available for all of these bodies. It is much easier to discuss the options before completing or implementing the plan than to fix a mistake later.

Step 4b: Develop fertiliser recommendations

Fertiliser type, application rates and timing are key management factors that can be greatly varied to meet NMP objectives, balancing information about the environmental risks, present nutrient levels, capital or maintenance dressings, and the objectives for the property. Fertiliser recommendations must take into account the environmental risks and best management practices presented in this Code and the results of nutrient budgets. Many land managers use their fertiliser company representative or consultant to assist in fertiliser planning.

Good records of results achieved from previous fertiliser applications will help. Where problems have been encountered (e.g. dry matter production targets have not been met, nitrate leaching to groundwater) then planned management practices need to prevent or remedy these when future fertiliser is applied.

This phase of planning may identify several different fertiliser types that could be used to supply the required nutrients in suitable forms and proportions while managing environmental risks. Decisions on the best types and application rates to meet the plan’s objectives will then be based on financial and physical compatibility factors. Many consultants use computer software to select the least cost fertiliser combination (types and application rates) to meet nutrient application objectives.

Step 4c: Prepare a nutrient budget

Nutrient management activities associated with this Code require preparation of a nutrient budget. The nutrient budget is done to assess the cumulative effects of nutrient use. This will allow adjustment of inputs, such as fertiliser, if necessary.

There are several ways to prepare a nutrient budget. One popular approach is to use the nutrient budgeting software, ‘Overseer’.

Typically the nutrient budget will use historical fertiliser applications (e.g. in a ‘maintenance’ fertiliser programme) and the latest soil test results. For other situations – e.g. where increased fertiliser and increased production are expected – then the nutrient budget should be prepared to evaluate these objectives. This situation may require several nutrient budgets to compare alternative scenarios. This is easily achieved with Overseer once base farm information has been entered.

A nutrient budget compares inputs and outputs to establish changes in soil nutrient levels. Inputs include nutrient:

  • in mineral fertilisers
  • in organic fertiliser, soil amendments, feedlot waste, other imported manures or by-products
  • in dairy and pig effluent
  • in purchased feed (such as grain, hay, silage, brewer’s grain, palm kernel extract, other feeds)
  • contained in stock returns from stock grazing regularly on the land
  • released from soil fixation sites or mineralised from organic matter
  • in irrigation water and rainfall
  • in clover/lucerne nitrogen fixation

Nutrient outputs and losses occur in:

  • produce leaving the block (such as fruit, vegetables, grain, hay, silage, milk, meat, wool, timber)
  • nutrient leaching below the root zone
  • losses in run-off, including nutrients associated with eroded soil particles
  • loss through soil fixation (P, K) or immobilisation (N, S)
  • loss to the atmosphere from volatilisation and denitrification
  • transfer in dung or urine to stock camps, yards or laneways.

It is important to realise that a ‘balanced budget’ is not always desirable. Keeping the nutrient budget in balance will, in the long term, maintain soil fertility at its current level but this is not always the best result. For example, if present soil nutrient status for, say, phosphorus (P) is low, then the land manager may want greater P inputs than outputs so that soil P rises – i.e. they will apply capital P dressings. Conversely, if the soil has very high P levels then greater outputs than inputs (or even no P fertiliser inputs at all) could be appropriate.

A nutrient budget is not a fertiliser recommendation.

A nutrient budget can be used as a modelling tool to test different nutrient scenarios providing a feedback loop to fertiliser recommendations.

Some land managers may wish to prepare their own nutrient budget or alternatively seek the services of a fertiliser company representative or consultant who should be an accredited nutrient management advisor. Regardless of who prepares it, accurate input information is required if the nutrient budget is to have credibility and be of use as a management guide. Nutrient budgets can be difficult to interpret and guidance on what the output data means may be necessary in situations where a land manager has prepared their own budget. 

Step 4d: Identify best nutrient management practices

Best Management Practices And Considerations - Fertiliser sets out considerations and best management practices for fertiliser handling, use and application to overcome any significant environmental risks identified in Step 3. The NMP must list the best management practices selected to reduce the risks on the property. The best management practices listed in Best Management Practices And Considerations - Fertiliser are written in such a way that they can be directly transferred into the NMP to provide a definite statement of management intent. Actual practice can then be compared with the planned practices and improvements can be made if they are needed.

The environmental risks identified as important for the situation will prompt selection of practices or products to avoid or minimise these risks. However, there may be further practices that are important to overcoming the risk of adverse environmental effects, which are specific to the area and operation. It is important to include these as part of the listed best management practices.

Some land managers might also set additional preferred management practices to meet personal objectives – e.g. annual soil testing or a limit on total nitrogen applied, independent of any Regional Council or industry specification.

This Code addresses in detail best management practices for fertiliser handling, use and application. Other best management practices to be considered include riparian management, wetlands, winter grazing, herd homes and nitrification inhibitors.

When including nutrient management activities such as dairy effluent disposal, in the NMP it may be useful to contact the local Regional Council or industry advisor for the best practices appropriate to the activities and area.

NOTE: If you have assessed the environmental risks from a nutrient management activity (e.g. fertiliser use, dairy effluent irrigation and cropping) as being of medium to high significance a separate management guide should be prepared for those that are medium to high. The management guide(s) should address all identified LMU’s.

The management guide needs to include reference to all legal and industry requirements and the identified best management practices relating to the particular activity. If the management guide relates to a specific fertiliser nutrient (e.g nitrogen) then it should also include the fertiliser type and amount recommended for that nutrient plus any supporting information such as nutrient budget results.

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

7 September 2022

The 2022 AgriTechNZ Baseline of Digital Adoption in Primary Industries report was released in August.

Created as part of a study by AgriTechNZ and insights partner Research First, the report was co-designed with partners The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand, Zespri, The Foundation of Arable Research and DairyNZ. It was also supported by the Ministry for Primary Industries as part of the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures initiative (SFFF).

The 60-page report looks at digital adoption, including key drivers and barriers across the dairy, horticulture, arable and beef/sheep sectors.

You can download the report here.

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.

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