Nitrogen recording protects water and drives on-farm efficiency
12 March 2017
This week Fonterra farmers will receive their nitrogen reports for the 2015/16 season.
The Co-op’s Nitrogen Recording Programme enables farmers to maximise the benefits of efficient nutrient use on-farm, benchmark their performance against others and demonstrate their strong commitment to environmental responsibility.
Nitrogen reports are produced using information that farmers provide at the end of each season, by filling out a form (either in hard copy or online) detailing key farm factors, such as monthly stock numbers, farm management blocks, supplementary feed and fertiliser applications. This information is then processed in the industry modelling tool Overseer™ by our qualified team and a report is prepared.
Nitrogen is an essential plant growth nutrient. However, in some circumstances, if nitrogen enters surface water it can create conditions that encourage the growth of nuisance weeds and algae, which can result in water being unsuitable for recreation and food harvesting.
The Co-op is committed to protecting fresh water in New Zealand and General Manager Sustainable Dairying Charlotte Rutherford says understanding on-farm nitrogen results is fundamental to responsible dairying.
“These reports enable our Co-op to identify and work with farmers who have potential to improve their nitrogen use, by explaining the way nitrogen cycles through their farming system. We can provide farmers with support and advice so they can make more efficient use of nutrients and reduce losses of nitrogen to water. This in turn reduces the environmental impact of dairy farming and contributes to better water quality in dairy catchments.”
Individual nitrogen reports provide farmers with their nitrogen leaching risk and nitrogen conversion efficiency results, allowing them to compare their performance against other farms in their region. While Fonterra keeps these reports confidential, farmers are able to request a digital version if they want to share it with other parties like their fertiliser rep, farm consultant or regional council.
Nitrogen Programme Lead Mat Cullen says “the Canterbury region has already introduced nitrogen leaching limits for farmers and Fonterra’s programme is Environment Canterbury (ECan) approved. This means that farmers can request their digital file from Fonterra to satisfy their regional council’s requirements. This is a significant annual cost saving for our farmers who are farming under nitrogen limits."
“The Nitrogen Programme also allows Fonterra to effectively advocate for farmers during limit setting discussions with regional councils, and help farmers understand the potential impacts that limits may have on their farm systems.”
In a pasture-based farming system nitrogen is also an expensive nutrient to replace. When nitrogen is lost it represents a loss from the farming system and a cost to the farm.