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Published: 2007-08-20 00:00:00

By Environment Waikato sustainable agriculture coordinator Gabriele Kaufler
Waikato farmers should be able to introduce nutrient management plans at little or no cost, not the $2500-$5000 indicated in a recent newspaper article.

Under an Environment Waikato rule introduced last year, farmers applying more than 60 kg of nitrogen fertiliser per hectare a year, or applying any fertiliser to the effluent irrigation area, have to have a nutrient management plan (NMP). This rule applies regionally except in Taupo where a separate rule regime is under consideration before the Environment Court. 
The Dairying and Clean Streams Accord signed in 2003 also has very similar requirements. The accord target is for every dairy farmer to “have systems in place to manage nutrient inputs and outputs by 2007”.
The fertiliser companies made a fantastic effort last season to ensure every dairy farmer has a nutrient budget, with Dexcel recently reporting 97 per cent now had a budget.
But if a budget just sits in the drawer it doesn’t meet the aim of the accord or Environment Waikato’s requirements for an NMP. Nor will it help farmers save money or increase productivity.
And the reality is there’s a lot of support available from Environment Waikato and the fertiliser industry to get an NMP developed without spending big dollars on a consultant. With the help of a well trained fertiliser representative a farmer can do it without any extra cost. Ravensdown CEO Rodney Green is assuring farmers that they won’t have to pay for this service.
Also, Environment Waikato’s education team has developed and published guidelines for nutrient management planning which are available from our website  Environment Waikato is continuing to work with the fertiliser industry to develop and refine templates for nutrient management plans and to provide up to date training and information for fertiliser advisors on local environmental issues.
One of the things we’re finding is there’s a lot of confusion amongst farmers about how to use the information from a nutrient budget and transfer it to an NMP.
The first step is to look at the nutrient losses that your nutrient budget reveals. Then chose from the many options available to reduce N and P losses:

  • Check out the nutrient content of your effluent and adjust your irrigation area and practices accordingly. Questions to ask yourself include how fast is your irrigator going, and can you apply less than 10 mm?
  • Take the nutrient content of effluent into account when you apply fertiliser to the effluent block – you might only have to add lime.
  • Make sure you don’t have to irrigate effluent on to wet soils – ask yourself whether you have got enough storage.
  • Avoid applying nitrogen fertiliser in winter as frequent high rainfall can wash the fertiliser off into waterways. Nitrogen quickly leaches out of the rootzone under such circumstances. Utilisation is poor as the grass is not actively growing – you might be wasting a lot of money.
  • Optimise your wintering practices. Densely stocked areas are prone to pugging and the excreta running off into water contains nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as high loads of faecal bacteria. Look at stand-off options and actively use them every time it rains.
  • Don’t allow stock access to waterways – have all your waterways fenced and protected.
  • Don’t allow run-off from tracks and races to enter waterways. Dirty water contains high loads of faecal bacteria as well as significant levels of nutrients – make sure the run-off is channeled into a paddock where the grass can absorb the nutrients.

A high quality fertiliser rep can very quickly show you what outcomes you’ll get from implementing these practices on your property. If you wish to do more detailed planning then there are programmes offered by some farm advisors for a fee that provide a much more detailed plan that may result in the identification of even greater potential cash savings and reductions in nutrient loss. The choice as to the depth and detail of the plan rests with the farmer at the moment.
So, NMP doesn’t have to be a costly exercise and it will most definitely save you a lot of money in the long run as you fine-tune your nutrient practices on farm.
Farmers should remember that their first plan doesn’t have to be perfect and that fertiliser reps and Environment Waikato are more than happy to help them fine tune it.
The reality is that the development and implementation of NMPs is an evolving area, one that farmers, fertiliser companies, councils and others need to co-operate closely on to ensure the best results both for farmers and the environment. 
Gabriele Kaufler, Environment Waikato’s sustainable agriculture coordinator, is available on the council’s freephone number 0800 800 401 to provide advice on NMPs.