December 2018

Growing food economically

Whether you grow animals be they sheep, beef or dairy, or grow fruit and vegetables, there is a common thread and that is we grow food.  Food is consumed by everybody, therefore it is vitally important to all of us that this continues.  At the same time it needs to be grown sustainably with the correct amount of nutrients in it for the best possible health outcomes.

There is no disputing that an ever-increasing amount of food is needed; it really depends on who you talk to as to how much more.  The real question facing us all is how do we grow this food?  The standard theory is to apply more fertiliser, but my take on this is that a plant, just like a human, can only take a finite amount of food and the rest is wasted.  The question is how much is enough and are we using the correct delivery system to get the fertiliser to the plant?  My opinion is that we are not using the correct delivery systems, nor do we understand the interaction between the roots and the soil.  This area of science has been neglected and lost without any thought whatsoever.  The soil life which was there has been largely destroyed by some “modern agricultural practices”.

One of the hot topics at present is the use of Nitrogen.  Urea and associated products certainly have their place, but as usual there are some farmers who have misused this methodology.  We now face the real possibility of some form of regulation.

Farmers have invested heavily into their farming operations and they are going to be seriously affected.  All this will impact on how food is grown.  So where to from here?

As prudent business people, we all need to have an alternative plan which is how to grow more food using less fertiliser.

Clearly there needs to be a better understanding of how fertiliser, or nutrient as some call it, gets into a plant.

Traditionally, fertiliser has been delivered to a plant as a “solid” product, but this has its own problems.  Leaching, evaporation and lock-up are some of them. Then there are the facts of how it gets into the plant root system.  This leads to the science of soil biology which gets almost no consideration from the major players.  Increase the biology/ecology in the soil and the efficiency of the applied fertiliser will also increase.

The other well-established method of feeding a plant is foliar feeding.  A quick search on google shows 1,900,000 references to this method.  So, the methodology is well researched and proven practically over a very long period.

Fertilizer New Zealand has several articles on how the plants feed through the leaves.  But in summary, scientific work has shown the efficiency of the plants use of nutrients to be as high as 95% when applied through the leaf.  It also showed that the speed at which the plant took up the nutrients was immediate, compared to solid fertiliser application which was less efficient and took longer to work.

Our question to farmers is this – what is your plan should nitrogen be restricted?  It is important that everyone should have a working alternative to using bulk nitrogen.  We have those answers and can help you formulate a plan to suit your farming method.  It is not only a great idea to have a plan ready for the day when some nitrogen products will be banned or regulated, but it also makes economic sense because of its efficiencies and the speed of utilisation.

For more information on how to work your plan, contact us at Fertilizer New Zealand.

From John Barnes and the Team at Fertilizer New Zealand