Wednesday, 08 July 2020 10:06

N cap rules – an unbalanced approach

Written by  Jim van der Poel, DairyNZ chairman
Jim van der Poel. Jim van der Poel.

OPINION: The Essential Freshwater policy’s new nitrogen cap has a barb in the tail for dairy farmers and particularly those in Canterbury.

While the overall package announced last month was an improvement on the earlier version, it surprised many that the nitrogen cap of 190kg per hectare per year would be applied so quickly and only to pastoral farmers.

The cap begins in July 2021, and only dairy farmers must report fertiliser use to their regional council.

When it comes to achieving healthy waterways, we all have a role to play. Dairy farmers have been doing a lot of good work over the past decade and recognise that we are part of the solution. But rules must be applied equitably, not only between farmers, but also between rural and urban communities.

The cap for just pastoral farmers is not equitable and it’s out of step with the Government’s own Essential Freshwater principles. Dairy farmers have already done a lot of good work, but want to know that every farmer or grower applying nitrogen must adhere to the same rules, to achieve the same outcome.

Decisions on farm systems and what to plant are made many months in advance and the timelines for the new rules present significant upheaval.

There are real solutions to be found and DairyNZ is working hard to explore these. 

But good science to inform on-farm practice takes time.

Farmers are already innovative in reducing N losses and will continue to be. In Canterbury, farmers are investing thousands of dollars to upgrade irrigation systems. 

The precision irrigation technologies are very effective at reducing nitrogen leaching, while also improving water use efficiency. 

Over 10,000 nutrient budgets are in use on dairy farms to look at the farm’s soils, rainfall, crop and pasture, stock, supplementary feed and irrigation. These budgets inform accurate fertiliser application.

We look forward to working together with government to ensure these policies are translated into pragmatic and balanced rules for all farmers and to achieving our shared goals for healthy waterways.

• Jim van der Poel is DairyNZ chairman

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