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Published: 2006-09-28 00:00:00

Farmers undertaking a nutrient budget and management plan can potentially save themselves significant amounts of money, says Environment Waikato sustainable agriculture facilitator, Gabriele Kaufler.

"Fertiliser is one of the largest expenses for most farm businesses," she said. "So it is important to recognise that farmers enacting a nutrient budget and management plan have reported fertiliser savings of 20 per cent a year. This translates into significant dollar savings."

Mrs Kaufler said the average dairy farm has about $425,000 worth of nutrients in its topsoil.

"However around 30 per cent of North Island dairy farms have twice the level of soil nutrients needed for pasture growth. This means that up to one-third of dairy farmers are probably spending more on fertiliser than they need to.

"Furthermore, by undertaking a nutrient management plan, farmers can reduce the amount of nutrient run-off – which helps protect the environment."

Recent changes to Environment Waikato's Regional Plan mean that any farmer applying more than 60 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare a year to their land now requires a nutrient management plan.

"The nutrient management plan will help you realise further savings, and reduce the environmental footprint of your farming business," Mrs Kaufler said.

How to prepare a nutrient management plan

“A nutrient management plan is a tool, much like feed-budgeting, which allows farmers to consider their nutrient inputs and outputs, particularly focusing on N and P.

“This plan is based on a nutrient budget, and it describes the practical steps that will be taken to reduce nutrient and sediment losses.”

Here are some tips how to prepare an effective nutrient management plan.

  • Firstly, you need to prepare a nutrient budget, which will summarise all your inputs and outputs from your farm system.
  • The nutrient budget should be undertaken using Overseer, SPASMO or any other nutrient planning tool that meets the criteria, documenting all inputs and outputs, climatic and soil conditions and taking into consideration the potential for nitrogen and phosphorus losses.
  • The information obtained from the nutrient budget needs to be turned into a series of practical steps that will help keep your nutrients within your production system. This is the basis of your nutrient management plan.
  • A number of farm advisors and companies offer specialist nutrient management advice. The level of service they provide varies depending on expertise and cost.
  • As part of any nutrient management plan, you will need to produce a farm map showing land management units, and environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Among the things that you or your adviser should consider in the nutrient management plan are:
    • your fertiliser management
    • your soil and pasture management
    • your effluent management
    • your drainage system.
  • In addition, a good nutrient management plan should also look at riparian management for your stream margins, and managing waterways which may be at risk from hotspots such as silage pits or offal holes.

Mrs Kaufler said that Environment Waikato could not endorse any particular supplier of nutrient management planning services, but recommended that farmers ask direct practical questions about the skills and qualifications of anyone providing services in this area.

“For example, can the advisor provide you with copies of other work they have done, and will these cover the aspects relevant to your property?" she said.

“Many providers have endeavoured to train and upskill their staff to be able to produce a nutrient management plan for specific farm systems, for example through the Massey course on ‘Sustainable Nutrient Management in New Zealand Agriculture’.

“The bottom line is that a good nutrient management plan can save farmers considerable amount of money over time by preventing the loss of nutrients from the farm – as well as having a positive impact on environment.”

For more information, please call Environment Waikato's Freephone 0800 800 401, or visit our website