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Nitrogen fertiliser research receives funding

1 February 2005

Hill country nitrogen fertiliser research receives funding

A four-year research project that has the potential to increase the economic return from hill country farms by as much as $100 million a year has achieved funding support from the MAF Sustainable Farming Fund and the fertiliser industry.

The first stage of the research has been underway since June 2004 with funding from fertiliser industry body, Fert Research.

Ongoing commitment to the second, three-year phase of the project has been confirmed with funds from the MAF Sustainable Farming Fund, Fert Research and the country’s two large co-operative fertiliser companies, Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-operative. Other industry bodies are also considering contributing funds to the project.

Entitled, “The Wise Use of Nitrogen Fertiliser on Hill Country Pastures” a Steering Committee manages the project.

An inaugural meeting focusing on the project and its wider implications for agriculture in New Zealand will be held in February in Palmerston North. The Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, Hon Jim Sutton, will open the meeting which will also be attended by participating farmers, researchers and funding organisation representatives.

Mark Illston, Steering Committee chair, says the project aims to address questions raised by the increased use of nitrogen fertilisers on hill country.

“Evidence tells us that pasture production on hill country is increased through the use of nitrogen fertiliser. However, we also need to understand what changes need to be made to farming systems to turn that pasture into economically viable outputs and what are the short and long term environmental effects of using nitrogen on hill country.

“This is a high profile project with involvement from farmers, industry and government. It is important to all these groups to fully understand the economic and environmental implications of nitrogen use on hill country before the practice becomes common-place. Fertiliser nitrogen has been identified by many farmers as an effective way of improving productivity and profitability, and it is likely usage will continue to increase,” said Mark Illston.

Dr Hilton Furness, Technical Director of Fert Research says the fertiliser industry funded the research because of its significance.

“Any increased use of nitrogen fertiliser on hill country farms must be undertaken in a responsible and sustainable way.

“We are looking to see what environmental impacts the practice could have over the short and long term,” said Dr Furness.

The research is being carried out by AgResearch and involves several components.

The segment funded by Fert Research is taking place at two AgResearch research stations – Ballantrae in southern Hawkes Bay and Invermay in Otago. In these trials, potential environmental impacts such as leaching and soil changes over time are being measured, along with effects on pasture production and composition. Their focus is to understand what the effects of increased nitrogen use are and how any adverse outcomes can be avoided, remedied or mitigated. The results will be communicated to members of the farm community groups, who will look at production issues on commercial farms, and future management systems.

The second component, involving community groups of farmers and other interested participants from 14 areas around New Zealand, is central to the project’s success. One farm in each area becomes a demonstration farm for all farmers, industry, policy agencies and the general community to learn from. The community group will design and conduct demonstrations of wise nitrogen fertiliser use, record the production results, and predict the economic and environmental implications on a whole farm basis. One outcome of this community group network will be development of appropriate best management practices on an ongoing basis.

ENDS

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