N cap clearer but across farm average still wanted
16 November 2021
New Ministry for the Environment guidance gives dairy farmers much-needed clarity on how to meet the Government’s synthetic nitrogen fertiliser cap regulations.
DairyNZ is pleased to see new ways for farmers to measure their nitrogen use but will continue seeking more changes to help farmers. This includes highlighting more practical solutions for managing and reporting nitrogen fertiliser use on-farm.
“We want to get this right once and for all for farmers as it has been causing considerable stress. Dairy farmers are working to reduce nitrogen use, but there was no pragmatic way for them to meet the measuring and reporting requirements,” says DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Dr David Burger.
The nitrogen cap applies only to the pastoral sector, not horticulture and market gardening which also use nitrogen fertiliser. Under the rules, both beef and dairy farmers are required to record nitrogen use, but only dairy farmers have to report on their nitrogen use to councils.
“There’s inequity there, so DairyNZ will keep working with the Government to get greater fairness for dairy farmers across the board, while our sector continues our environmental work throughout the country,” says Dr Burger.
The regulations requiring pastoral farmers to meet the new 190kg N/ha/year cap on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser came into effect in July. DairyNZ challenged the strict per hectare limit in the regulations for nitrogen applications as impractical and not delivering increased environmental benefits.
The new guidance partly addresses the measurement issue, as farmers can now record fertiliser use using a GPS system. Alternatively, farmers can record their average per hectare nitrogen fertiliser use by paddock, groups of paddocks or part of a paddock, if the fertiliser is evenly applied.
“DairyNZ worked hard with the ministry, the primary sector and regional councils to get this solution,” says Dr Burger.
“We’ll keep calling on the Government for farmers to be able to measure and report their nitrogen use using an across farm average. This is a more practical solution advocated for by both DairyNZ and various regional councils.”
DairyNZ continues to invest heavily in farm systems research to further reduce nitrogen loss from dairy farms. This includes research on alternative feeds such as plantain, alternative timing of feeding regimes that can reduce nitrogen concentration in cow urine, and comparison of known technologies in different farm systems.
For now, it’s important farmers record all nitrogen fertiliser applications and look at options to reduce nitrogen input, if above the 190kg/ha limit. They need to record their applications during the year so they can report the required information to their regional council, in July 2022.
In some circumstances, farmers must apply for a regional council consent by the end of 2021, if they can’t meet the nitrogen cap. Farmers with a consent will still have to reduce fertiliser use.
“We’re concerned these consent applications will mean significant cost to farmers and councils. It’s unclear how this is going to work after the review of Overseer and we urge local government to prioritise information and education to farmers,” says Dr Burger.
“There must be a flexible approach in how farmers can report to regional councils on their nitrogen fertiliser use next year. They should be able to use an existing programme, such as a fertiliser company programme, or a template from their regional council.”
For more information, go to dairynz.co.nz/environment-updates