Friday, July 1, 2022

SPECIAL REPORT | MfE releases synthetic nitrogen measurement guidelines

Neal Wallace
The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has finally issued guidelines on the measurement of synthetic nitrogen, which have to be reported to regional councils from next July.

DairyNZ strategy and investment leader David Burger says consent conditions could be a significant cost to farmers and councils and there is much uncertainty.

The NZ dairy herd increased 82% between 1990 and 2019, with some of the largest increases in Canterbury and Southland. Neal Wallace investigates the future of dairying in those regions and talks to some innovators who are confident that with the use of technology and management changes, dairying has a future.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has finally issued guidelines on the measurement of synthetic nitrogen, which have to be reported to regional councils from next July.

Regulations restricting use to 190kg/ha/N a year were introduced last July for the pastoral sector, but DairyNZ strategy and investment leader David Burger says compliance was hampered by a lack of practical methods to measure use.

“We want to get this right once and for all for farmers as it has been causing considerable stress,” Burger said.

“Dairy farmers are working to reduce nitrogen use, but there was no pragmatic way for them to meet the measuring and reporting requirements.”

Under the rules, beef and dairy farmers are required to record annual nitrogen use, but only dairy farmers have to record and report their nitrogen use to councils, a requirement Burger describes as an “inequity”.

The new guidelines partly address the measurement issue, allowing farmers to now record fertiliser application by using a GPS system, or the average applied per hectare either by paddock, groups of paddocks or part of a paddock, provided it is evenly applied.

DairyNZ guidelines state that it is possible to put more than 190kg N/ha/year on forage crops, but only if offset by applying lower amounts on pasture.

The format and process of the information that farmers must provide will be decided by each council but will be a version of the area of land in pasture, annual forage crop and other land, receipts for purchases of synthetic nitrogen showing fertiliser type and its percentage of nitrogen and the date and rate of application to each land area.

Farmers unable to meet the 190kg/ha/year limit this year will need to apply for resource consent by the end of the year.

That consent will have to show either a plan to reduce nitrogen use from July 1, 2023, or that management will prevent any increase of nitrogen loss to water compared to if 190kg/N/ha/year was applied.

This consent cannot be granted for more than five years and even if it is granted, DairyNZ notes nitrogen use will have to be lower.

Burger said consent conditions could be a significant cost to farmers and councils and there is much uncertainty.

“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,” he said.

There must be a more flexible approach in how farmers report nitrogen use to regional councils next year.

“They should be able to use an existing programme, such as a fertiliser company programme, or a template from their regional council.”

Read more articles in the special report series “Dairying has a future

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