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Farmers seek alternatives for lighter footprint.

Tags: Rural Rural Insight

As farmers around New Zealand grapple with the impact of ever tightening nutrient limits, some options for maintaining fertility whilst keeping nutrient losses down are gaining traction.


Non-traditional and low phosphate/nitrogen fertilisers are finding their niche among pastoral farmers who are either making the wholesale shift to these applications, or combining them with reduced levels of conventional fertiliser applications.

The use of such fertilisers has had a controversial history in New Zealand agriculture, the most high profile being the Maxi Crop court case in the 1980s which played out as the country’s longest civil court case that lasted over a year.

However, as New Zealand farmers have built up phosphate levels over generations of using traditional super-phosphate based fertilisers, and as nitrogen becomes a focus for regional council nutrient reduction, non-traditional fertiliser companies are reporting strong sales to pastoral farmers.

Arthur Tsitsiras, general manager for Waikato based TerraCare fertilisers says farmer interest in options outside the usual super-phosphate/urea fertilisers is very strong but the challenge is to ensure they are still matching their bottom line with the environmental need to lower phosphate run off and nitrogen leaching.

“The days of simply putting on what you always put on are gone. Farms have to have farm environment plans and the pressure is on fertiliser companies to ensure they help keep farmers on track, rather than simply sell them what they have always bought.”

“Farms have to have farm environment plans and the pressure is on fertiliser companies to ensure they help keep farmers on track.”

His company produce dicalcic phosphate fertilisers delivering a slower rate of release than conventional super, and a valuable option to far slower releasing RPR. Slower releasing phosphate products are finding a place for farmers cautious about losing too much superphosphate to drains and waterways when it is exposed to rainfall. Similarly more farmers are aware that already having high phosphate levels requires getting smarter about how to unlock that.

“And for that reason we will always encourage them to get their soil pH tested, and lime if necessary to unlock what phosphate is already there to use, before putting more on.”

He cautions while nitrogen is the main focus for nutrient limitations now, phosphate will not be far behind in future regional plans, and options are there to manage both today.

Bill Sinclair, managing director of Pacific Bio Fert is proud to be a second generation owner of a company his late father Clive established 40 years ago. His father pioneered a process to make phosphate more biologically available so it was not as prone to being locked up and unavailable, as is the case with conventionally applied phosphate.

His patented Biophos process combines fish by product with a composting process to increase the biologically available phosphate for plants. The phosphate in dicalcic and BioPhos fertilisers have lower water solubility than the phosphate in conventional super phosphate, meaning they are less inclined to be washed into waterways after rainfall events.

“I think if we look historically at New Zealand farming each generation wants to leave the farm in a better condition than they found it. Our farming sector has been able to achieve the production it has on the back of traditional super-phosphate but more farmers are now taking account of the environmental impacts.

“They have to and they want to, so an ever growing number are seeking alternatives, and recognise those high phosphate applications of the past are no longer as appropriate, or even suitable in some areas of the country.”

Bayleys Canterbury rural agent Ben Turner says more potential buyers are spending time doing due diligence on a farm’s nutrient footprint, and taking the time to understand what the implications are under the region’s land and water management strategy.

“More potential buyers are spending time doing due diligence on a farm’s nutrient footprint, and taking the time to understand the implications that could affect farm business within the next few years.”

“We are talking about a plan that now has an effect on farm businesses within only the next few years.

“There are farmers out there who have front footed this, and are showing the way in terms of being able to maintain profitability but do things differently. Many are looking harder at fertilisers like RPR and liming more to maintain profitability without compromising nutrient losses.”

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