July 2018

Loss of Nitrogen

The discussion of the loss of nitrogen is not a new topic.  It has been talked about frequently but sadly very little has been achieved. Let me recap on what I have written about it over the years.

Nitrate losses to the environment were identified as “a key challenge for farming” in the 2004 findings presented by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Morgan Williams, in his report, ‘Growing for Good: Intensive farming, sustainability and the New Zealand environment’.
Williams drew on the words of Australian CSIRO researcher Barney Foran to an International Grasslands Conference in Palmerston North more than a decade previously:

“The biggest challenge now is to produce a vision of why we produce products from grasslands. If we are worried by the energy consumption of our developed economies, then we must develop low-energy, integrated pasture systems that give high-quality products with no downstream pollution effects – a “cradle-to-grave” concept.

“Our experimental methods must now be redesigned to reflect product quality rather than product quantity. We must re-examine why production per hectare is seen as the holy grail. In many areas, land is overvalued in terms of its productive worth, rather than limiting in amount. We could do better by helping to crash land prices rather than developing technologies to run the land harder to make it pay.
“Grasslands give much more than production. Using our grasslands are people who are real and have life goals. Many of our landscapes are beautiful and biodiverse, and our technologies must accommodate these other uses.”

Eleven years on, Williams reinforced Foran’s synopsis as being “even more pertinent”. “Unfortunately,” Williams adds, “New Zealand has made glacial progress in addressing (or even fully acknowledging) the issues, opportunities and needs…in particular, the need for a new vision and to redesign farming systems seems to have gained little traction”.
“We cannot continue to respond so slowly and in such a piecemeal fashion.”

Williams says the redesign of farming “ranges along a spectrum from tools for remedy and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts, to the development of new farming systems which deliver environmental sustainability and economic wealth (i.e. sustainable agriculture), to approaches which promote sustainable agriculture and seek to integrate farming into the wider environment”.

“Hear, hear,” you will hear from us at Fertilizer NZ. Just like Barney Foran and Morgan Williams, our aim is to help farmers towards sustainability and wealth. We do it by providing them with products designed to keep the soil nutrients in balance, and, therefore, keep the soil healthy.

We know that healthy soil produces healthy crops and healthy pastures, which, in turn, produce healthy animals and healthy products, and, ultimately, healthy humans.

One of the secrets to Fertilizer NZ’s success is our access to special microbes that are renowned internationally for their ability to bring added value to soil.

These microbes – mycorrhizal fungi – have been shown to increase plants’ ability to absorb soil nutrients. There is a best balance of micro-organisms for each type of plant. If it’s right, the plant lives at its healthiest, and often yields to higher levels.

By judicious use of these fungi, phosphate in the soil can be used more efficiently, less nitrogen fertiliser needs to be used – and, all the time, production is maintained.

While several million microbes live in the soil, even more – up to 100 times more, in fact – live near and in the roots of plants. These microbes give phosphate to roots and, in return, receive carbon dioxide. In other words, they do naturally what nitrogen fertiliser is intended to do. 

From the Team at Fertilizer New Zealand