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Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use

Application of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser to pastoral land

Excess nitrogen on the land can have profound effects on water quality and atmospheric chemistry. Although plants use and need nitrogen to grow, excess nitrogen is converted to its water-soluble form ‘nitrate’ by soil bacteria and then is easily delivered with water run-off to groundwater, streams, estuaries, and coastal water. An excess of nitrate acts as a pollutant in water systems disrupting the ecosystem and displacing fish and macroinvertebrates.

On 1 July 2021, the Government introduced a cap on the application of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser for land grazed by livestock under the new Essential Freshwater package.

What are the rules?

  • No more than 190kg/ha/year of synthetic fertiliser can be applied without a resource consent. This limit applies both as an average for the contiguous landholding, and to each hectare (with a limited exception for land used to grow annual forage crops).
  • Dairy farmers must record synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use and report it back to us each year on 31 July.

Contiguous landholding is each adjoining or touching land parcel is considered part of the same farm, while land parcels that don’t border others are considered separate farms.

Diagram displaying example of contiguous landholding.
Example of a contiguous landholding (Image: Ministry for the Environment (MfE)).

The yellow farm has one continuous block of land. Although it is crossed by roads and streams, its paddocks adjoin both sides of those roads and streams and so form one contiguous landholding (labelled A). The blue farm has two contiguous landholdings (A and B) separated by land not belonging to the farm. Each comprises a block of adjoining paddocks, some of which straddle roads. The red farm has four contiguous landholdings – three small ones (A, C and D) and one large one (B) with multiple adjoining paddocks straddling roads.

How can I report on my nitrogen fertiliser use?

Regional councils are working closely with the Ministry for the Environment, fertiliser suppliers and the dairy sector to help farmers meet these requirements.

We know most farmers have close ties to their fertiliser suppliers. If you use one of the major fertiliser suppliers, such as Ravensdown or Ballance, they have the tools for you to collate all the necessary information, ready for you to check and submit to your regional council when you’re ready. We recommend you contact your supplier or farming services provider to find out more about this option as soon as possible.

We understand other suppliers and agricultural service providers are also working on similar reporting tools.

The regional sector is also developing a new national tool for reporting your usage, which all regional councils will make available ahead of the 31 July reporting deadline.

Farmers should be aware that the reporting period for supplying similar information to milking companies is different.

What information will I need if I intend to report my Nitrogen use directly to my regional council, rather than via my fertiliser supplier?

If you’re planning to use the regional sector’s reporting tool, which will be available ahead of the 31 July reporting deadline, you’ll need access to the following information:

  • total land area of your farm in hectares
  • total land area used for:
    • grazed land split into:
      • grazed forage crops
      • grazed non-forage crops
    • un-grazed land
  • kg of Nitrogen fertiliser applied for each land use category
  • name/s of the fertiliser applied (including its Nitrogen percentage) for each land use category
  • your New Zealand Business Number (check whether you have one, or apply for one)
  • your Dairy Supply Number.

Categories of pastoral use land

Pastoral use land (any grazed land)
Pasture
Grassland used primarily for grazing.
No hectare of pasture may receive more than 190 kilograms of synthetic nitrogen in a year.
Annual forage crops
Land other than pasture used primarily for grazing.
The limit of 190 kilograms/hectare/year may be exceeded on annual forage crops if the average for all the pastoral use land is kept within cap.
Other pastoral use land
Land that is intermittently grazed but is primarily used for other purposes eg, arable, horticultural, forestry, hay, silage, ‘cut and carry’, and  seed crops.

The synthetic nitrogen limit for other pastoral use land is similar to that for annual forage crops.

The cap is in effect on other pastoral use land until the end of the last grazing period before harvest.

Other land (all land that is not grazed)
The nitrogen cap does not apply to other land, but dairy farm annual nitrogen reports must report any synthetic nitrogen applied to other land if it is contiguous with the dairy platform.

Table: MfE Nitrogen cap guidance for dairy farms.

More detailed guidance on the nitrogen caps for dairy farms can be found on the Ministry for the Environment website: environment.govt.nz