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New Software Will Help Protect Our Environment

Scientists have developed a computer software package that will help New Zealand maintain it’s clean, green image.

The innovative software has been developed by Keith Cameron and Hong Di, at the Centre for Soil & Environmental Quality at Lincoln University. It will help farm advisers and consultants calculate nitrogen application rates on our farms.

“This will ensure we are not leaching excessive amounts of nitrate into our water supplies,” said Professor Cameron.

“Nitrate escapes whenever there is a high concentration in the soil and drainage occurs. If nitrate gets into drinking water it is harmful to human health. High concentrations of nitrate in surface waters can also cause excessive weed growth and can harm fish in nearby waters.

“Nitrate leaching also causes economic losses, firstly though reduced plant yield, and secondly through the extra cost of having to buy additional fertiliser,” said Professor Cameron.

The four-year study, an investment of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, has measured nitrate concentrations in the drainage water from pasture soils in 120 large soil columns at Lincoln University.

“The soils had nitrogen fertiliser, dairy shed effluent, and cow urine applied to them in order to determine the amount of nitrate leached and to develop methods to reduce the leaching losses. Cow trampling was even simulated by a purpose-built robotic cow hoof,” said Professor Cameron.

“A unique aspect of the research is that for the first time, the model takes into account the fact that large amounts of nitrogen consumed by grazing animals are returned unevenly to the pasture in the form of urine and dung patches.

“One of the main advantages of the model is that it only requires a relatively small number of data input values. This is a considerable improvement compared to many other programmes that require large amounts of data to run.

“The software is an excellent tool to assist dairy farmers, farm advisers and Regional Councils to work together to meet their environmental responsibilities.

“Our research was supported by the NZ Dairy Board and Ravensdown Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd. Not only will it reduce environmental impacts but also improve sustainability of New
Zealand's dairy farming systems,” said Professor Cameron.

For further infomation:

Keith Cameron, Lincoln University, Tel 03 325 2811, cameronk@tui.lincoln.ac.nz


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