Nutrient Managements plans - why bother?

The business advantages of having a nutrient management plan (nMP) for your farm are becoming increasingly obvious to farmers in all sectors of agriculture. it's not simply a matter of meeting local or industry regulations, either – an nMP can help you save money on your fertiliser bill, get better use from productive land, and build the long-term sustainability of your farming operation.

What are nutrient Management plans?

NMPs look at how the nutrient cycle is working on the whole farm, and its financial, environmental and social effects. The aim of developing and executing an NMP is to optimise the production and profit gained from any nutrient inputs by increasing the efficiency of nutrient use, while avoiding, or minimising, any adverse effects on the environment. The scope of an NMP is wide ranging; it examines the farm system as whole, going well beyond a nutrient budget.

NMPs are made up of a number of components, including:

  • Long-term personal and farming goals. These will affect how the farm is managed, now and in the future, and the resulting eff ects on the farm's nutrient cycle, its production, sustainability and impact on the surrounding environment.
  • Meeting regional council requirements. These differ by region, and sometimes for specific areas or catchments within regions, so the management strategies required to meet them will vary on each farm.
  • Identifying land management units, their production and associated records, a nutrient budget (using a tool such as Overseer) and nutrient recommendations for each unit. Your farm will be made up of a number of unique areas - their individual features will need to be identified (using a farm map) and managed. These features will include factors such as soil characteristics, contour, vegetation types, waterways and riparian margins.
  • Best management practices, including measures of environmental risks and impacts and steps to mitigate them. Each land management unit will need to be managed differently, as it will have different issues and requirements.
  • Annual review of goals, procedures and achievements. Were production results achieved? Did soil/herbage nutrient levels change as expected? Were environmental risks avoided/ mitigated as expected? A review of what has happened is important, so that the NMP can be amended to accurately refl ect how the farm is operating, and to capture any changes or adjustments that need to be made.

There are a number of possible benefits to be gained from nutrient management planning. They go well beyond just meeting regulatory requirements, being a good custodian of the land and helping to maximise the production and profi tability of the farm business.

Benefits for Dairy Farmers

There is intensive public and regulatory scrutiny of the activities on dairy farms. Preparing an NMP and putting it into action will ensure any issues are covered.

With an NMP you can see if you need to change management practices to prevent leaching and surface run-off into sensitive areas, for example, by fencing off streams and capturing effluent from stand-off areas, or by changing the standing-off policy so that pugging is reduced; this will ensure pastures are looked after and nutrient run-off is prevented.

An NMP will help you to develop a comprehensive fertiliser plan, identifying the most economic and efficient fertiliser strategies to keep soil fertility levels within the optimum range. This may well result in significant savings from the fertiliser budget.

An NMP also helps you to identify innovative effluent management strategies, for example, growing maize on effluent blocks. This is a win-win situation; the maize will require lower fertiliser inputs, and as it is nutrient hungry, will mop up excess nutrients from the effluent. Alternatively, different ways of capturing, treating and using effluent can be considered, including weeping walls, larger capacity storage ponds, low application rate effluent irrigation systems, increasing the size of your effluent block and timing applications for maximum benefits.

Benefits for Sheep and Beef Farmers

Planning will allow you to determine the nutrient requirements of different areas, so that you can apply exactly what is needed, where it is needed and when. For example, you may find you need to apply less P than you thought, that split fertiliser applications are a better option, or that the different areas of your farm require different fertiliser strategies. Getting your soil nutrition and pH right will result in a more profitable use of fertiliser, less waste and better production.

A part of this process is carrying out regular soil and herbage tests and using the results to feed into a nutrient budget. Regular pasture analysis will also allow you to measure trace element levels, which will have a positive impact on animal health. The trends in soil and herbage tests over time will help to build up a complete picture of the system and how it is working.

You can put together your own nutrient management plan - FertResearch has put out a template to help with this process. However it may be best to get it prepared by a trained advisor, competent at nutrient budgeting and with a detailed understanding of farm systems, nutrient cycling and environmental issues.


Article provided by Ballance Agri-Nutrients