The price of all imported high analysis fertiliser has escalated, and in the case of urea (nitrogen) and DAP, a crop starter fertiliser containing nitrogen and soluble phosphorus, the price has doubled within the past twelve months.
There is no substitute for fertiliser nitrogen in cropping which is quite different to permanent grazed pasture.
There’s a variety of reasons for the increases including shipping disruptions, however manufacturing fertiliser is energy intensive and with crude oil still 60% above that of the last ten years, it would be prudent to expect prices to remain at their present levels, with any reduction an unexpected bonus.
Things can change; significantly and quickly, however the risk is to the upside rather than the downside at present.
That puts increased pressure on farmers costs which they are unable to pass on as higher prices to their customers, therefore they must look to ways of greater efficiency at farm level.
Pastoral farmers already have the answer to reduced dependence on urea using products and programmes that promote healthy clover throughout the months when it’s too warm for grasses to remain in a vegetative state.
Utilising nitrogen fixed free of charge by clover is the basis of this country’s unequalled success since the second world war up until the advent of cheap nitrogen from the ammonia urea plant at Kapuni.
What is not appreciated by many is that Kapuni supplies only about half of the country’s demand, the other half being imported product, with the price farmers pay subsidised by every tax payer, a somewhat ironic situation given environmental concerns.
The use of soluble phosphorus is likewise a somewhat nuanced situation given that the sale of superphosphate to pastoral farmers has been based on its increased solubility compared to genuine soft phosphate rock.
For the last thirty years the superphosphate manufacturing companies have largely dismissed the claims of those selling soft phosphate rock claiming that only one third of what is applied is available in the first year.
Most New Zealand soils contain around 500kgP/ha within the growing zone of plants, more than sufficient to meet the 20 -25kg P/ha lost from intensive pastoral situations.
Long term trial results show that high levels of plant available phosphorus don’t necessarily increase pasture production although it does limit the likelihood of low production.
Replacing what is lost in production is best practise however the key to ensuring sufficient plant availability of phosphorus at all times is the speed at which it being cycled.
Dung, old root, and uneaten herbage all contain significant amounts of phosphorus and the speed at which these are decomposed by beneficial soil biology releasing nutrient for plant uptake is just as important as the size of the pool.
Rather than continuing to use the strategies of applying well above maintenance inputs to limit poor performance a shift to using less and ensuring optimum performance by using it more efficiently is the way of the future.
To do this it is necessary to recognise the essentiality of beneficial soil biology and work with those that have the resources and experience to provide biologically crumb-rich soil on a large scale.
Prior to 1990 when the funding model for research changed there was significant work undertaken by scientists at centres throughout the country into soil biological processes and the benefits of increased pasture yield and carrying capacity well documented.
Functional Fertiliser clients have over the last thirty years enjoyed the benefits of lower fertiliser costs and up to a 30% increase in annual pasture production with more even growth throughout the season.
An often-voiced concern is that of production loss during the transition from one system to another. There are a number of strategies that can be tailored to fit individual farm situations to ensure no loss does occur.
For more information contact Peter on 0800 843 809.