The not so secret agenda | Functional Fertiliser

The not so secret agenda

That the country is resolutely heading towards a carbon neutral economy is not the least bit secret, nor will the target change with a different government.

Farming will, over the next few years, become increasingly buoyant with not only higher market prices but a higher percentage making its way back to the farmer.

And that’s because the farming community has shown time and again when there is a requirement for fundamental change it will simply get on and do it, however we don’t see that as embracing the current high profile regenerative farming model.

Without clover as the base, multi-species pastures and poor utilisation will result in a steady reversion to low fertility species with proponents steadily losing enthusiasm.

Nitrogen is essential for higher fertility species to thrive and with reduced urea usage the only way sufficient nitrogen can be made available for high producing permanent grazed pastures is via stronger and more vigorous clover.

That less urea will be applied is clear from the proposed regulation limiting annual nitrogen application to 190kgN/ha maximum.   The amount is not the key issue as that can be altered, it is the fact that there will be an enforceable limit.

Hard on the heels of that came the news that the NZ Unit (carbon) price will be lifted from $25 to $35, allowing government to provide both an incentive and a penalty.

Simplistically farmers losing carbon will have a tax to pay, and those sequestering carbon receiving a payment.  It is important that farmers begin measuring soil carbon on their properties.  The VSA colour, and local laboratory Hot Water Carbon tests are an excellent start point.

It is under permanent grazed pasture that carbon is most rapidly sequestered and with increased soil carbon comes improved nitrogen retention.  As more carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide is removed, the green houses gases nitrous oxide and methane will become steadily less relevant.

Those farmers who for the last fifteen years have been using soil fertility systems that have included little if any nitrogen have benefited significantly when compared to neighbouring properties relying on 230kgN/ha or more.

Firstly, their pasture production has steadily increased due to more moisture and nutrient storage capacity with pastures growing longer into summer and recovering more quickly in autumn.

More carbon has resulted in increased soil crumb allowing plant roots to access nutrient from greater depth.  With little or no applied nitrogen, mycorrhizal fungi, which extend root zone by at least nine times, ensure healthier, stronger, and more disease resistant plants.

The notion that pastures should not be grazed to low levels is a fallacy. High utilisation means more of what is grown is processed through an animal and dung is far more readily digested than long fibrous feed trampled into the surface.

The key to growing and utilising large amounts of pasture is allowing pasture plants time to fully recover before grazing again.

Initially regrowth is slow as leaf surface area builds.  Then comes the rapid growth phase as increased leaf surface area converts sunlight to energy before plant growth slows as a stem and seed head develop, the time when grazing best takes place.

A small amount of stem is essential fibre for optimum rumen function, and  due to growth rates changing throughout the season grazing intervals may vary from as long as 100 days over winter, to as short as 18 days in spring when growth is at its most rapid.

Apart from steadily reducing reliance on fertiliser nitrogen the changes required are more a refinement of the practises NZ farmers already do best, than wholesale change.

For more information call Peter on 0800 843 809.

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