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Ballance hits half way in product innovation programme

10 June 2014

Ballance hits half way in its biggest product innovation programme

Ballance Agri-Nutrients has reached the half-way mark in its $19.5 million programme under the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Primary Growth Partnership (PGP).

The seven-year Clearview Innovations PGP programme is aimed at developing products, technology and knowledge to support sustainable, profitable farming. The programme has $9.75 million in support from the PGP.

Ballance Research and Development Manager, Warwick Catto, says the co-operative has made nitrogen and phosphorus efficiency a high priority in the programme. It is aiming to increase nitrogen uptake efficiency from the usual 10:1 return to 15:1 and to increase phosphate efficiency by 20 percent while minimising losses.

Work to date has covered 24 work streams and has already resulted in two products which are in the pipeline ready for release after validation. The two products undergoing extensive user validation are MitAgator™ and N-Guru™, with both becoming available for use by farmers throughout the country by early 2015.

MitAgator™ is designed to identify areas on farms that are at high risk of losing phosphorous, sediment, nitrogen, and microbial contaminants. It takes data files from the OVERSEER® agricultural management tool and links it with a geo-referenced farm map, a soil map and a digital elevation model. Once the base risk maps are developed, mitigation and management strategies can be targeted at an individual paddock, or even part of it.

N-Guru™ - available in time for soil testing during the coming spring season - is designed to enable Ballance sales consultants to identify areas of a farm that will produce a greater response to nitrogen than others. It is modelling software which delivers added certainty around pasture response.

“With N-Guru™ we can now predict the pasture response accurately and impartially and tailor our advice accordingly. So we can now say if nitrogen is applied here, at this rate, this is the pasture response and associated increase in production a farmer can expect,” says Warwick.

Other research in the programme is focused on more effective forms of nitrogen and phosphate, with field testing underway for some of these commercially sensitive options.

Also being field tested are product concepts for the biological control of grass grubs, which cause millions of dollars worth of pasture damage annually, as well as biological control treatments for the control of porina caterpillars – which compete with stock for foliage and have the potential to reduce the long term quality and production of pasture.

Ballance’s Clearview Innovations programme initially started with 24 work streams, and by the end of the year it is expected this will be narrowed down to about 10 key projects.

One of the intents of the programme is to accelerate research activity to fail fast and pick the winners.

“We know that not all avenues in the programme will lead to promising destinations. That’s why we’ve put in the hard yards up front to narrow down the focus to those work streams that will deliver on our programme objectives.”

Warwick said that in the last 12 months the focus has been determining which of the co-operative’s projects will have the greatest impact and probability of success.

“Eliminating the projects which may be technically successful but not commercially viable means that we can now put our efforts into the ten or so concepts that have the greatest potential to boost the profitability and sustainability of farming in New Zealand, and spend the rest of our time concentrating on delivering these to market.”

One example of a product concept which hasn’t made it to the next round was the potential of alum to mitigate phosphorus runoff losses from pastures to waterways.

“It is used successfully in water treatment, but for mitigation of phosphorus runoff the effective rates proved to be cost prohibitive.”

Warwick says he’s very encouraged by the PGP programme to date and with progress on the science extension part of the programme.

“Research needs to be thorough and that takes time. It’s time well spent for farmers to have confidence in the end result – we have to show the science is rock solid and not based on just one or two favourable field tests. With our research now at the half way mark, we are picking up the pace on the extension activity so we can get the programme outcomes adopted on-farm quickly and effectively.”

Covering the country with one-on-one specialist advice, Ballance Agri-Nutrients is a New Zealand farmer owned co-operative that helps its customers to operate more profitably and sustainably.

Our approach is to create real value for farmers through the provision of complete farm nutrient management advice, products and technology including fertiliser, feed, online farm management and aerial topdressing.


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