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Regulation

Environmental Compliance – Part 1: Dates to Prepare For

By Regulation

31ST JULY 2022 – Nitrogen Cap Reporting.

In this first of a three part series on environmental compliance, we hone in on the fast approaching deadline for nitrogen cap reporting discussing who it affects, why we need it and what you can do about it.

Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Freshwater) Regulations 2020.

As part of the Freshwater Regulations which came into effect 1st July last year, synthetic nitrogen application on all pastoral land is capped at 190kg/ha/yr – meaning it became illegal to spread more that 190kg of synthetic nitrogen per hectare per year on any grazed land. This is both the maximum averaged over the whole farm and the maximum per hectare of pasture. It is possible to apply a higher rate than this on forage crops, but only if it is offset within the farm block, by putting lower amounts on pasture.

The first reporting deadline for this regulation comes up on 31st July 2022. It requires all dairy farm operators to report to Regional Councils on their synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use (any manufactured product of greater than 5% by weight of N) for the previous 12months, ending 30th June 2022. So, usage from 1st July 2021 to 30th June 2022, reporting on 31st July 2022. The nitrogen cap applies to all pasture and forage crop land but excludes arable land. Only dairy farms are required to report at this stage, and organic sources of N and effluent applications are excluded.

To meet this reporting requirement, it is important that usage information is recorded (or accessible from fertiliser companies) throughout the year, to enable accurate reporting. This includes: area of land (hectares) in pasture, forage crops and other; receipts for Nitrogen fertiliser purchased; type of fertiliser and it’s percentage of N by weight; dates, rates and areas of application for each type of N fertiliser for each application to pasture, forage crop or other land.

At this stage the exact reporting process is still under development and updates are expected soon. Central Government is working on constructing a national database to hold information. It is likely that fertiliser companies and/or Fonterra will assist farmers with reporting requirements to Regional Councils. The simplest solution will probably be authorising your supplier to supply the information for you. Alternatively, Regional Councils may develop a webpage to allow farmers to upload information directly. Keep an eye out for further information over the next few months on the specifics of how to report nitrogen usage to Regional Councils and have a talk to your fertiliser supplier.

If you believe you may exceed the nitrogen use limit, it is possible to apply for a non-complying activity resource consent from your Regional Council. It should be noted that these consents are not meant to allow businesses to continue as usual with high nitrogen use but to give some flexibility in managing reductions over time if immediate compliance is impossible. Talk to your Regional Council about resource consent options, if you think you may exceed the nitrogen cap.

 

In the meantime, the advice is to ensure you:

Know how much synthetic N fertiliser was applied throughout the year over each hectare or paddock of the farm as well as on average over the whole effective pastoral area and forage crops.

Have good systems in place for recording the tonnage, date and type of all synthetic N fertiliser applied on farm, the area it was applied and whether it was in pasture, crop, or other. When using a mix of products make sure all sources of synthetic N are accounted for and the application rates.

For more information on the nitrogen cap regulations go to Dairy NZ, Ministry for the Environment, regional councils or find the full Act here.

 

Why do we need the Nitrogen cap?

Throughout New Zealand, we are using almost 8 times more nitrogen in than we were in 1990 and, on the whole, the quality of our waterways is diminishing. Nitrogen leaching from pastoral land is a significant contributing factor. Best farming practice manages nutrients to keep them cycling within the farm system and reduce losses to the environment. Over-fertilising not only risks expensive nutrients being washed away but can also damage the environment. The more you use the greater the risk.

Data indicating that pasture growth rate curves flatten out with nitrogen usage of over 200kg/hectare has led to the cap being put in place for most farming sectors. The cap level will be re-evaluated in 2023.

 

How can we lower Nitrogen use?

There is growing concern around the over use of synthetic fertilisers. Consequently, information on strategies to make reductions or be more strategic with usage is readily available. A great starting point for Dairy farmers is the Dairy NZ information on reducing nitrogen fertiliser use.

Strengthening your soil health to optimise nutrient cycling for plant growth is one strategy for reducing reliance on synthetic inputs – allowing the microbes in the soil to flourish and do their work in making nutrients plant available. The ability to balance the use of synthetic inputs with more sustainable options, such as soil bio-stimulants, is a great tool in the kit for farmers. The number of great success stories of farmers doing just this is growing all the time and with it, a real sense of excitement that innovations in this area are going to benefit soils, pastures, farmers and the environment.

“With the addition of Fish It we now use 70% less urea across the entire farm, we have better pastures, better crops, healthier animals and no need for pesticides. We don’t need to buy in bales for feed any more because we’ve increased our output.”

Georgie GallowayLivestock & Mixed Cropping Farmer, Southland

Regenerative Agriculture. You’re probably doing it already.

By Regulation, Soil Health, Sustainability

Regenerative agriculture is a term that is slowly gaining a level of acceptance in the New Zealand agricultural sector.  For many years the term and its principles have been scorned in some corners. We are now seeing an increasing uptake by farmers utilising many of its principles, an increase in media coverage and broader acceptance of the term and practices generally.

Nestle’s “Net Zero” sustainability initiative is tackling emissions in its own business and supply chain. This in turn has created a great opportunity for Fonterra to ensure that sustainably grown dairy product is sourced through their supply chain. This represents a premium return on milk solids for participating dairy farmers in New Zealand.

Corporate initiatives like these combined with the New Zealand government roll out of nitrogen cap legislation and the recommendations of the Climate Change Commission means there is a shift in mindset occurring within the sector.

The truth is that many New Zealand farmers are already undertaking some of the guiding principles of regenerative agriculture and reaping the benefits.  As such, they have the ability to move further along the continuum towards environmentally friendly, economically sustainable farming through evolutionary rather than revolutionary means.

Here are six regenerative practices and benefits that you may well be doing right now.

1. Reduced soil disturbance

Minimising soil disturbance by methods such as zero-till, reduced tillage or direct drilling are becoming more common place in New Zealand land management practices. Be it through capital investment or contract drilling, farmers are looking to direct drilling technologies to hold in the moisture, minimise soil disturbance  and incorporate more carbon and nitrogen fixing from the residual crop.

The transition to healthier soil does not happen overnight, but it does happen.

No-till farming leaves crop residues on the surface, which absorb water and limit runoff. This water retention can be critical to farmers in drought-stricken areas and can lead to improved crop yields due to the additional water retention.

2. Increase plant and microbial diversity

Crop rotation is defined as the intentional planting of different types of crops in different paddocks through each season in a sequential manner. It also requires seasonal periods of no planting to give the land time to recover.

Crop rotation helps increase soil fertility and improves crop yields.

Because each plant type uses different nutrients and promotes different micro-organisms through its growing cycle, this improves soil fertility by replenishing nutrients that are not available or utilising nutrients in abundance as you cycle through each season.

The improvement in the nutrient availability through crop rotation will, in time, lead to improved yield.

Soil structure will improve through crop rotation which helps prevent soil compaction, improves soil aeration, reduces soil erosion and delivers better water retention.

3. Keep the soil covered

Cover crops are a long-term investment in improving soil health, controlling erosion, improving water filtration and managing the natural production of nutrients.  The benefits can begin to accrue in year one and build over a few years.

Because cover crops take up space and light, they shade the soil and reducing the opportunity for weeds to establish themselves.

Legume cover crops such as clovers, peas and beans can fix a lot of free nitrogen, from the air, for subsequent crops within the nodules on their roots.  This can range from 60-180kg of N per hectare depending on season and species.

To help build resilience in soil a diverse range of plant species is needed above the ground to cultivate a diverse microbial ecosystem below the ground.

4. Diversify to reduce risk

Diversity in crops brings stability with the ability for the plants to manage abiotic stressors such as flood, drought and temperature extremes better. The more diverse the soil-borne organisms that inhabit a farming system, the more diverse the populations of pest-fighting beneficial organisms a farm can support. For example, healthy soils enriched and revitalised by rotation and cover crops promote root development and water infiltration, thus are less prone to disease.

5. Stimulate organic matter

There are many practices that will stimulate and increase organic matter in the soil.  Anything less than about 20% organic matter in the soil (as scientifically measured with a soil test) means you have room for improvement.

Adding compost, returning crop residues, adding micro organisms from EMNZ, crop rotation and diversification and the planting of nitrogen-fixing legumes all play a role in stimulating organic matter in your soil.

Of course, with organic matter you need to feed it and that is where the application of Fish IT Refined comes in to its own.

6. Sustainable grazing practices

There are many variables to sustainable grazing practices including such matters as stock count, grazing intensity and climate. The focus in this blog is around delivering resilience to your pastures to better handle the stresses of climate and deliver nutritious feed to your healthy livestock.

Pasture growth is determined by a combination of rainfall intensity and the ability to store your rainfall in the soil, ground cover, soil type and condition, evaporation, slope and tree cover.

In short, better quality soil leads to better quality pasture. Soil health has a direct impact on protein levels in pasture. Low soil phosphorous and nitrogen are the most common restrictions on pasture growth.  By taking the approach of cover crops, crop rotation, multi-species diversity and nitrogen-fixing legumes you will maximise your pasture yield, quality and resilience to abiotic stresses whilst being able to manage downward some of your synthetic inputs and associated cost.

Farmers across New Zealand are adapting to new production methods brought on by changes in legislation.  Taking a sustainable approach to your farming practices does not need to be “big bang”.  You can take a test, measure, learn approach by utilising any of the approaches discussed here.  Think of it as a biological transformation on your farm, applying your father’s production values with your grandfather’s methods.

Ready to understand the biology of your soil?

Download The Definitive Guide to Benchmarking the Soil at your Feet to learn methods for evaluating your soil and solutions for starting the journey to optimise soil health.

Innovation, not regulation is the future of farming

By Education, Regulation, Soil Health, Sustainability

Time and time again we are being told that our farming system is broken – that we will not be able to sustain the amount of food we are producing to meet the demands of our growing population. Media coverage of carbon emissions and the degradation of our water resources are at an all-time high, whilst soil health and biodiversity levels are barely mentioned.

There is a lack of support and resources for farmers in the NZ. We are using damaging practices to meet the demand for food. And yet, that demand is not being met. So what’s going wrong? We must find a way to produce more food, in a more sustainable way – causing less environmental damage.

Some suggest the solution lies in changing our diets, to buy from local sources and to reduce meat consumption where possible. Or, a move away from traditional farming and implementing regenerative and organic practices as the possible key to the future of sustainable farming.

Natural doesn’t always mean better

Many champion a return to traditional and organic agriculture as the ultimate sustainable option. Moving away from intensive farming of the land to enable farmers to protect and restore the health of our soil.

A completely organic and regenerative food production system is appealing. However, it is important to acknowledge that these methods produce less food, with the same amount of land. “Natural” methods of food production are effective and sustainable, but in some ways, romanticised. 

Nature can also be unforgiving and unfair, bringing along with it its own range of issues for the farmer or grower. It’s why many of the unsustainable practices we criticise today were developed in the first place. An unexpected change in weather conditions or a pest infestation can be devastating to farms, crops, and a disappointing yield can have huge consequences for both farmers, growers and consumers. 

Producing less food is simply not an option – we need to find a way to intensify food production without having to industrially farm our natural environment. Therefore, we see reducing synthetic fertiliser use and increasing the use of natural bio-stimulants such as Fish IT as a low impact solution to maintaining production levels alongside sustainable practices.

Giving nature a helping hand with balance

The use of synthetic fertilisers are hugely beneficial but too much of a good thing is just that – too much of a good thing. It creates instant plant growth and that’s a great short-term solution for farmers and growers motivated to increase yields. This approach however ignores soil health considerations. A healthy soil is productive sustainable and resilient to withstand the impacts of farm management practices and changing climatic conditions. Healthy soils undertake many functions for healthy plant growth, including storing and providing water and nutrients, maintaining biological activity.

Soil organic matter makes up a small component of the soil mass, yet it has an important role in the functioning of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil.

Ultimately, improving soil health can lead to better plant establishment, growth and ultimately productions.

Management practices

Because every farming environment is unique, the following management options aren’t the panacea. We aim to help you to understand your options for improving the condition of your soil by improving soil structure, reducing losses of carbon, nitrogen and building soil organic matter. By improving soil condition it will ultimately enhance the plants’ ability to access nutrients; capture and retain soil moisture for longer; and reduce losses of nitrogen to the atmosphere, groundwater, and waterways.

There are ways to improve soil health while also increasing productivity, water holding capacity and nutrient cycling.  Overall these practices target the reduction of input costs and produce wider land management benefits, whilst responding to regulatory changes.

Monitor soil nutrient levels:

  • Test your soil to check the nutrient status and structure to develop a plan to improve constraints to nutrient and water access e.g. physical (structure, compaction, drainage), chemical (pH, salinity, toxicities/deficiencies), and biological (micro-organisms).
  • Monitor soil organic matter/soil organic carbon over time via testing. We recommend adopting Graham Shepherds Visual Soil Assessment (VSA).
  • Manage soil structure to maximise water infiltration and retention for plant uptake and aeration.

Consider application of soil amendments:

  • Addition of organic amendments where practical and economically viable. 
  • Manage livestock manure to minimise nitrous oxide emissions

Manage the soil resource:

  • Use direct drill, minimum/conservation tillage and controlled traffic techniques in cropping operations to avoid compacting soils and losing carbon and nutrients through soil cultivation and erosion.
  • Cultivate soils at an appropriate moisture content 
  • Avoid over fertilising, use available nitrogen and avoid losses by leaching.

Balance, as opposed to steep change

Ultimately moving away from synthetic fertilisers towards bio-stimulants won’t be the silver bullet for farmers, but there is a real opportunity to include bio-stimulants in the mix, while reducing fertiliser use to create sustainable food production systems right now, for a better future. 

Perhaps the most exciting prospect of our farming future is that innovation is resolving our challenges.  As we acknowledge and move away from traditional practices and move towards more sustainable, ethical and holistic methods of growing food, we can look to agri-innovation to provide solutions, fill gaps, and strengthen the food production and consumption infrastructures of the future. Its an exciting time for innovators, farmers and consumers!

amino-acids

Amino Acids Part 2: The secret compound for all living things and sustainable farming.

By All, Animal Health, Productivity, Regulation, Soil Health, Sustainability

In Part 1 of this series I gave you a high level understanding of amino acids, their extraction and uses in agriculture.  In this Part 2 of the series, we will cover the importance of amino acids to plants and the benefits of amino acids to land management practices and sustainable farming. You have already heard about how amino acids help increase the health of the soil and everything that grows in it, how the proteins found in amino acids help the soil absorb and store more nutrients, but I haven’t discussed how that relates to sustainable farming and importantly reduced dependancy on synthetic fertilisers for productivity.

Let’s first start by understanding how amino acids support plant growth;

1. Amino acids help photosynthesis

Amino acids provide many different benefits to plant health, beginning with the process of photosynthesis. Without proper photosynthesis, plants will not grow. This process relies on the production of chlorophyll, which needs to absorb energy from the sun.  Amino acids help in the production of chlorophyll, which leads to quality photosynthesis.

2. Amino acids help increase nutrient absorption

Plant leaves consist of stomata, which are small pores that help plants absorb gas and nutrients. When there is no light and low humidity, the stomata will close to help to reduce photosynthesis and absorption of nutrients.  When the sky however is clear and sunny, and the humidity is higher, the stomata will then open. This will help plants to get the proper nutrition from rain, sunlight, and soil.

With sufficient concentration of amino acids in the soil, L-glutamic acid is a type of amino acid that protects stomata cells with a microscope. This encourages the leaves to remain open, allowing the plants to absorb more nutrients.

Amino acids are also known as having the ability to chelate when proteins are combined with other sub-nutrients. Plants can use sub-nutrients more efficiently. These benefits result in increased nutrient intake.

3. Amino acids reduce stress-related problems

The plant is able to withstand stress, such as from high temperatures, low humidity, and other serious problems. Amino acids help to fight stress and help plants to recover quickly and to maintain denser growth.

4. Amino acids support plant hormones

Amino acids also support the growth of plant hormones, which is called phytohormone. The Phytohormones control the development of healthy plants by supporting tissues and cells. Almost all stages of plant growth are involved in hormonal control. The use of amino acids with soil can promote production phytohormones without having to use separate supplements.

5. Amino acids help improve microbial activity

Protein is important for all living cells, including microbial cells that support healthy soil. L-methionine, one of the amino acids, can help increase the health of microbial cells, promote better microbial activity. One of the main roles of microbes is to help circulate nutrients, including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. The activities of healthy microbes control these components. Without microbial activity, most fertilizer is not effective. Microbes help convert organic compounds into inorganic forms, such as changing proteins from amino acids to carbon dioxide and ammonium. In general, microbes decompose compounds so that plants can absorb nutrients. Adding amino acids to the soil will improve this process.

6. Amino acids are a source of nitrogen

Adding amino acids to the soil can help increase nitrogen content by limiting the need for fertiliser with a high nutrient concentration. Plants can pick up amino acids from the soil to receive organic nitrogen. Amino acids are found naturally in the soil can provide protein with nitrogen. However, to get nitrogen, Plants must first digest proteins, which must have microbial activity in the soil. Amino acids help improve microbial activity. Soil supplementation with this substance can help the entire nitrogen cycle.

7. Amino acids increase calcium absorption

Chelating substances such as amino acids will help increase the absorption of nutrients. After plants absorb minerals, the rest will be decomposed into dissolved organic nitrogen or used directly as an amino acid.  Chelaing will have effects to help with plant health from increased calcium absorption, making plants to have more calcium and to help strengthen the vascular system, strong nutrients conveyor system. Plants will be able to absorb more water and nutrients. This calcium increase may help prevent pests and diseases. When plants are weak, there will be water in the cells which attracts the growth of mold and insects. With healthy plants, there will be more pectin in the cell wall. Thicker cell walls are less likely to be attacked. Increased calcium absorption also helps prevent pests. When these problems occur, plants release calcium and produce defenses that help repel insects.

essential-amino-acids

Amino Acids Part 1: The secret compound for all living things and sustainable farming.

By All, Animal Health, Productivity, Regulation, Soil Health, Sustainability

Amino acids, often referred to as the building blocks of proteins, are compounds that play many critical roles in the health of all living things. They are the essential compounds for life and as such are needed for vital processes like the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters.

Humans may also take additional amino acids in supplement form for a natural way to boost athletic performance or improve mood.

Soil amino acids are important sources of organic nitrogen for plant nutrition, in fact amino acids serve as a key mobilisable source of nitrogen in plants, and their transport across cell membranes is necessary for uptake of nutrients from soil.

This two part blog tells you everything you need to know about essential amino acids, including how they function, sources and methods of extraction, their importance to plants and benefits to sustainable farming.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, along with a variable side chain group. When a series of amino acids are joined by peptide bonds, proteins are formed. Proteins are important macromolecules involved in all aspects of the growth and development of plants.

There are about 20 amino acids that can help plants, animals, and humans grow and develop. Though all 20 of these are important for health, they are individually required for specific functions.

The amino acids responsible for chlorophyll synthesis are Alanine, Arginine, and Glycine. For the development of the root or to delay the senescence, there are Arginine and Methionine. If we want to achieve a chelating effect on the soil and better development of shoots and leaves plants use Glycine. For the resistance systems of the plant, the best types are lysineglutamic acid, and glycine.

Sources and methods of extraction

The main sources of amino acids are extracted from vegetables, animals, fish or synthetics. Those obtained by plants are extracted from vegetable waste of soybean, cereals, fish, etc. 

Traditionally, two processes are used in agriculture to obtain amino acids. These processes are known as, acid hydrolysis and enzymatic hydrolysis.

Acid hydrolysis method is the most basic and low-cost option. It is achieved by prolonged boiling of the protein with an acid solution. The method is quite aggressive, so the resulting amino acids are of low quality, creating a high percentage amino acids destroyed during the process. 

The enzymatic hydrolysis process is much less aggressive. It is not necessary to apply extreme temperature and instead of an acid solution, an enzyme is used. The process is more expensive and complex, but the percentage of free amino acids are much higher, so in contrast to the acid hydrolysis approach the resulting composition is mostly usable by the plant.

Benefits of applying amino acids

Plants synthesise amino acids from the N absorbed as nitrate or ammonium that is in the soil. During the process of absorbing nitrogen from the soil, the plant consumes a considerable amount of energy which is diverted from the plant’s growth activities. The main reason why it is so important to applicate these products in agriculture is the energy savings that they achieve. The energy saved is diverted to other important processes such as sprouting, flowering, or fruiting. The outcome of which is an increase in the quality and the production of the crop or pasture.

In part two of this series we will look at the relationship amino acids have with synthetic nitrogen and benefits to sustainable farming.

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