13 Feb 2015

Good science and passion for the land

Sonia shares some insights from the annual Fertiliser and Lime Research Centre workshop held this week at Massey University in Palmerston North. The Conference theme was improving nutrient management within farming systems to reduce the impact on our water catchments. 

This annual workshop draws together over 250 researchers, farmers, farm industry representatives, farm consultants, and regulators. There were a range of presentations on both understanding how nutrients move through the soil between the farm and waterways and some updates on projects underway to improve current water quality such as at Lake Horowhenua and the Mangere River catchment in Northland.

Phil Jordan of the Agricultural Catchments Programme in Ireland showed that attention not only needs to be paid to nutrient concentrations at source but also to how nutrients travel through the soil to waterways. He gave the example of high phosphorus levels on a sheep farm in County Mayo, in an area with pristine waterways and of high ecological importance. Despite the high soil phosphorus readings, monitoring of the waterways over several years showed low phosphorus levels. It was found that the soils on this farm had a high potential for capturing the phosphorus and this stopped it from moving through the soil profile into the water. His talk illustrated the need to have flexible approaches to managing nutrients in a regulatory framework, one solution does not fit all situations!

The highlight of the day for me was hearing from Mark Slee, who along with his wife Devon, were the 2014 national winners of the NZ Ballance Farm Environment Awards. Their principles are to operate as efficiently as possible and Mark says this been the foundation of their success, both in improved productivity and environmental management. He discussed the change they made in irrigation from border dyke to centre pivots and the benefits of closely monitoring their soil moisture levels. They also use GPS for proof of placement for fertiliser and on the centre pivots for effluent management. Where possible they have retained shelter belts and although several needed to be removed they have replaced them with over 10,000 low growing native plants. I was impressed with Mark’s commitment and passion for both his farming business and environmental outcomes and for continually wanting to look for ways to improve.

The encouraging thing I see is that Mark and Devon aren’t alone in improving environmental management. Many of you are up there too as early adopters of technology to manage your nutrients in increasingly more efficient ways, adding profitability to your business, and benefits to the environment. A win-win for all.


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