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Ballance user testing more sophisticated nutrient technology

4 September 2013

Ballance user testing “more sophisticated” nutrient technology

Farmers will soon have a tool to help them deal with areas of the farm that are more likely to be the source of nutrient losses.

The emerging technology from Ballance Agri-Nutrients is one of the initial outcomes of the co-operative’s research and development programme, which is being co-funded by the Government’s Primary Growth Partnership.

User testing and validation is now underway for the “precision decision” model, which will give farmers access to information about how they can reduce nutrient losses while getting the best response from their fertiliser use, says Ballance’s Research and Development Manager, Warwick Catto.

The new technology, called MitAgator™, is being developed in conjunction with AgResearch. It takes data from OVERSEER® files and links this with a geo-referenced farm map, a soil map and a digital elevation model.

Mr Catto says around 80% of nutrient losses occur from 20% of the land area on a farm.

“It is far more cost effective to target mitigation and management to the key areas, rather than work across the whole farm. That’s why Ballance has focused on developing a precision model that works in conjunction with Overseer and uses other data on soil and topography to give an objective result. It will help farmers to minimise losses while getting better use efficiency from their phosphate (P) and nitrogen (N) fertiliser.

“MitAgator generates maps showing the areas that are at high risk of N and P loss, as well as sediment and bacteria losses to the environment. Once the base risk maps are developed, mitigation and management strategies can be modelled, and can be targeted to an individual paddock, or even part of it.”

The modelling selects from a range of possible mitigation options by both cost and effectiveness, and the technology allows for mitigation options to be applied to the map, such as fencing off a wetland.

“What we’ve got now is a prototype model which will map where nutrient, sediment and e-coli losses are occurring,” says Mr Catto. “This has great potential benefits in helping farmers to continue farming within nutrient-restricted catchments.

“The next step is to integrate MitAgator with other data sources to create a model which enables real-time risk management. For example, a farmer could then use MitAgator to access soil moisture data and forecast rainfall before deciding whether to graze stock or irrigate effluent.

“This is part of the vision for the Ag-Hub farm management information website that Ballance owns.”

Mr Catto says when ready, the MitAgator tool will also help farmers plan conversions to dairy, enabling the modelling of effluent systems, riparian planting, buffer strips or new drainage in the proposed farm system.

ENDS

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