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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Helping farm productivity and the environment

Ongoing scientific research is critical to New Zealand agriculture. The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand is dedicated to funding research as well as developing New Zealand’s agricultural research capability by supporting PhD research on nutrient management.

Today we highlight the work of Massey University student Nicola Wilson who is currently undertaking research on ‘What Hot Water Extractable Carbon and Nitrogen can tell us about changes in labile soil Carbon and Nitrogen.’

Nicola grew up on a sheep and beef farm in Northland, which she describes as her happy place.

“I grew up with a large focus on the ocean, spending a lot of my spare time sailing and I always knew I wanted to do something in my future to help the environment,” said Nicola.

Her switch from the ocean to the land took place when she decided to study Agricultural Science and discovered an interest in soil science.

“I realised that I could do my bit for the environment within the Agricultural sector. Working with farmers to better our farming practices and improve soil health felt like it was addressing the problems from their origin, and through this I was doing my bit towards soil, freshwater and marine health,” said Nicola. 

Nicola’s research aims to provide further analysis of the ways in which Hot Water Extractable Carbon (HWEC) and Nitrogen (HWEN) relate to soil health measures and agricultural management practices and builds on current research surrounding these.

"Working on my family’s farm throughout my research as well as seeing the work other farms are doing to improve their systems from an environmental standpoint greatly inspired me to go into this research. My hopes are that this research helps farmers to use the Hot Water Extractable Carbon (HWEC) and Hot Water Extractable Nitrogen (HWEN) measures for insight into their soils in a way which is potentially more economically viable than others”.

There has been a lot of research on HWEC and HWEN measures over the past decades. Nicola’s research aims to build on the current knowledge and fill some gaps so these measures can be better implemented by farmers in their systems. A research focus on farms in Aotearoa, New Zealand means that there is more information that specifically relates to New Zealand farmers and their systems. 

Six months into her research Nicola’s findings support earlier research.

“HWEC and HWEN have strong relationships with total carbon and total nitrogen pools in the soil which tells us that we can gain insight into these pools from the HWEC and HWEN measures. My findings have also shown that long term phosphorus fertiliser applications have not affected the HWEC measured in soil. This was a surprising result as increased phosphorus applications increased pasture production and other soil health aspects and thus, we would expect the HWEC pools to also increase,” said Nicola.

Nicola has taken samples from Massey Universities ‘Whenua Haumanu’ project and Agresearchs ‘Mangarara’ trial.

Now the data has been collected Nicola (pictured below) is focused on writing her thesis.

“Once I have finished my thesis, I hope to find a job which will allow me to work with farmers to improve their systems and to benefit the environment. I also hope to continue working on and eventually take over the family farm,” concludes Nicola.

Nicola’s research is funded by the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand. Her supervisors are Lucy Burkitt, Maria Minor, Alec Mackay and Jeya Paramsothy.


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

12 June 2024

FANZ places great value on developing New Zealand’s agricultural research capability. One way we do this is through supporting PhD students. Among the students we are currently supporting is Kaitlin Watson, a Lincoln University student whose PhD looks at phosphorus and nitrogen cycling in dryland pastures under conventional and regenerative agriculture management.

27 March 2024

FANZ is dedicated to funding research and developing New Zealand’s agricultural research capability by supporting PhD research such as the work of Massey University student Nicola Wilson who is undertaking research on ‘What Hot Water Extractable Carbon and Nitrogen can tell us about changes in labile soil Carbon and Nitrogen.’

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