Friday, 24 August 2018 13:25

Farm plans help reduce N loss

Written by 
Mid Canterbury dairy farmer Grant Early. Mid Canterbury dairy farmer Grant Early.

Farming practices now piloted by Mid Canterbury dairy farmers Grant and Jan Early could show other New Zealand farmers how they can successfully reduce their environmental impacts.  

Earlys’ Mayfield farm is one of a small group in the Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching project looking for ways to cut nitrogen losses. They have so far achieved a 20% cut in one year on their dairy support farm.

The research results are made available to help farmers adopt new practices. 

Cutting nitrogen losses is a key government goal in the quest to improve waterways; the government also support a nationwide uptake of farm environment plans (FEP). All the Earlys’ work on their land is guided by their A-graded FEP, in place for four years. 

Primary sector groups met in June and called on all farmers to voluntarily adopt FEPs. Plans are currently required in Canterbury, Manawatu-Wanganui and on some farms in Waikato, Otago and Hawke’s Bay. Plans are independently audited. 

 Earlys run a 400ha dairy farm beside a 250ha dairy support farm used for grazing and animal feed cropping. for animal feed. The dairy farm milks 1400 cows at its peak. 

The Earlys are part of two irrigation schemes -- Mayfield Hinds Valletta (MHV) and Barhill Chertsey Irrigation (BCI) -- whose members are helped to develop their FEPs. Earlys monitor their water use and use real-time soil moisture sensors to decide when to irrigate. 

Grant Early says his FEP helps him recognise environmental risks. 

“It sets out a plan to manage and mitigate risks with a focus on improvements over time. The plan is a tool to prove to the irrigation scheme, authorities and the public that we’re achieving good management practice towards reducing nitrate leaching.” 

Earlys’ farm is within the Hinds Plain area where Environment Canterbury requires nitrogen loss reductions by 15% by 2025, 25% by 2030 and 36% by 2035.

Their FEP covers both properties and conforms to the rules of both irrigation schemes.   

“The initial version of the plan is a snapshot of the farm, recording the physical set-up and management systems, mapping land management units (LMU) and identifying environmental risks,” Early explains. 

“The FEP also requires that a nutrient budget be completed by an accredited entity. 

“The irrigation scheme shareholders must complete and submit their plan annually. Once the first plan is prepared, updating later annual plans is relatively straightforward.”

The Earlys’ FEP identifies four LMUs on the dairy farm with different characteristics and risks. These areas have effluent irrigation, pivot irrigation, K-line irrigation and some are dryland blocks. 

Three LMUs were identified on the support block: irrigated winterfeed, irrigated cereals and irrigated grass area. Each LMU’s environmental risks were identified plus options to mitigate these. 

For example, on the irrigated winterfeed area, the potential for nitrogen leaching was identified. 

“Our FEP states we will always establish a catch crop as soon as practical once a paddock has been eaten and not leave it fallow for a following winter feed crop,” Early says.

FEPs focus on crop rotations, stock numbers, fertiliser and effluent management within each LMU and point discharge areas.

The irrigation scheme shareholders must complete and submit their FEP annually.

Sensible irrigation

The Earlys use high-efficiency centre pivot irrigators on the two farms.  

Real-time soil moisture sensors tell when to irrigate, helping them manage their expensive, limited water. 

Irrigation scheduling needs to be carefully managed as nutrient leaching can occur if too much water is applied at the wrong time and drains to below the root zone. On their dairy support farm they also have installed soil moisture probes.  

“The biggest advantage of soil moisture monitoring is the confidence to know when to start irrigating only when the crop or grass requires it,” Early says. “It makes sense for the environment and financially.” 

Water flowmeters are installed on all irrigated farms in Canterbury. Data is transmitted to Environment Canterbury which checks that farms are not exceeding their water consents. 

More like this

Changing for the future

The Everest family of Ashburton in Hinds are one of many local farming families working hard to reduce nitrogen loss.

The demonisation of N

OPINION: Synthetic nitrogen, once hailed as a gamechanger because of its vital role in 'The Green Revolution', is now being demonized as an environmental destroyer.

Another way to manage N use

A new product has been launched that is said to increase soil productivity, improve nitrogen efficiency and in the end, profit per hectare.


Hort heads for new heights

Pretty impressive - that's how Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor describes MPI's latest prediction that horticulture exports will hit the record…

Machinery & Products

New look for MF brand

Massey Ferguson has a new look for its iconic triple triangle logo, as well a completely new 'Born to Farm'…

Solution to rowdy livestock

After walking away with a Fieldays Innovation Award back in June 2021, Springarm Products has now signed a sole marketing…

Look ma - no hands!

Although this month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is usually associated with the "geek brigade", global manufacturer John…

Telehandler range gets a lift

Kramer has introduced a further two models to its telehandler range – the mini KT144 and the medium-sized KT3610.

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Woof, woof!

OPINION: This old mutt has been pointing out forever just what a dog with fleas - as both a business…

DJ friends?

OPINION: Your canine crusader wants to know just what drugs the politicians and bureaucrats are on in Wellington.

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter