Thursday, August 18, 2022

Nitrogen use reporting looms for dairy farmers

The National Environmental Standard (NES) for Freshwater-enforced limit applies to all pastoral land but only dairy farmers have to report their usage.
Fonterra sustainable dairying advisor in Northland Helen Moodie says dairy farmers need to report their synthetic nitrogen use to regional councils by the end of this month.

Dairy farmers are required to report to their regional councils on their nitrogen fertiliser use by the end of the July, rural professionals have been told.

It is one of four main requirements placed on farmers in the National Environmental Standard (NES) for Freshwater, finalised in August 2020, and being implemented over five years.

Fonterra sustainable dairying advisor Helen Moodie told rural professionals at a Northland Inc. seminar that the NES requirements regarding nitrogen fertiliser are now looming and that farmers are going to need help for compliance.

In a former role Moodie was involved in the DairyNZ engagement with the Essential Freshwater policy-making process in 2017-18.

The NES contains a cap on the use of synthetic nitrogen of 190kg/ha/year that applied from July 31, 2021, plus the annual reporting requirement.

The report must contain the total farm area; divided into grazed and non-grazed land; the grazed land split into grazed forage crops and non-forage crops, the kilograms of nitrogen applied to each land use category; the name of the fertiliser applied, including the %N; the New Zealand Business Number; and the dairy supply number.

The 190kg/ha nitrogen limit applies to a contiguous area but doesn’t apply to fertiliser used to grow maize or pasture silage.

The limit applies to all pastoral land but only dairy farmers have to report their usage, and only on their milking platform, not non-contiguous support land.

Moodie said the means of reporting had not been established but regional councils are trying to build one data hub for all local government areas.

Fertiliser companies are also working on tools for collation of information that farmers can check and then submit to councils.

Fonterra farmers will have the relevant information in their Farm Dairy Record, to comply with the Co-operative Difference payment scheme, but reporting will be duplicated at this stage, she said.

Other approaching NES deadlines are categories of cattle exclusion from waterways by July 1 next year.

They must be excluded and kept at least 3m from the edge of the bed of a lake or a river greater than 1m, including intermittent streams.

Fonterra’s policy to date applied to permanently flowing streams, not intermittent.

Next year’s requirement is for beef cattle and deer being intensively grazed, being break-fed on annual forage crops and irrigated pastures along with all dairy cattle.

Beef cattle and deer on low-slope land (generally under 10 degrees) and dairy support cattle will be covered from 2025.

Cattle must also be excluded from all natural wetlands greater than 500sq m by July next year.

The person who owns the cows is liable, not the owner of the land, so some grazing agreements may need to be modified.

“Enforcement won’t be optional and farmers who don’t comply risk abatement notices and fines from their councils, so please help your farmers get through the grief cycle,” Moodie said.

“Dairy farmers have had 10 years or more to achieve stock exclusion; beef farmers have got two.”

Freshwater Farm Plans are coming down the track as a key delivery mechanism of NES attributes and these will have to be certified and regularly audited, by contractors to the regional councils.

That part of the new Resource Management Act amendments will come into effect in 2023 and phased groups of regional councils will be rolled out until the end of 2025.

The content of these plans is still being finalised but will focus on the catchment context, risk assessment and analysis, management actions and the regulation.

The need for a consent to intensify any area greater than 10ha is awaiting regional council notification of a plan that complies with the 22 new NES attributes.

Councils are required to have that part of their Regional Plan drafted, consulted upon and written by the end of 2024.

Already one application has been made to the Northland Regional Council to bring dairy support land into the dairying platform, which comes under the heading of intensification.

Moodie advised rural professionals and their clients to investigate council funding subsidies for treating erosion-prone land, including retiring pasture and marginal hill country, fencing and planting, and associated soil conservation.

She also recommended Land Air Water Aotearoa and its website for very useful information.

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