Latest News

13Jan

Fertigation’s pastoral potential

Piper Amy J | 13 Jan, 2022 | 0 Comments | Return|

Could applying fertiliser together with irrigation water help farmers meet the nitrogen cap rule?

With new limits on nitrogen (N) fertiliser coming into play, pastoral farmers are looking for ways to reduce N fertiliser use, while making the most of every kilogram of N applied.

It has been thought that fertigation – applying fertiliser with irrigation water – could be part of the answer.

In New Zealand, fertigation has mainly been used in horticulture, viticulture and a few large-scale arable operations, and overseas in arable and horticultural cropping systems.

It is known to distribute N more uniformly than granular fertiliser application, especially at low application rates, but beyond that, its potential to help New Zealand pastoral farmers reduce their environmental footprint has remained largely unknown.

A Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) project has been investigating fertigation’s potential in Canterbury. Can applying urea by fertigation increase N use efficiency, clover content, and pasture production and quality compared to solid urea?

What difference can fertigation and frequency make?

The first year of the project, in the 2019/20 season, focused on fertigation’s potential to increase pasture production and pasture quality. Also, as fertigation enables smaller amounts of N to be applied more often, frequency of application was investigated.

To look at the effect of fertigation compared to the standard method of application, solid urea fertiliser was applied and irrigated either immediately or two days later, or was fertigated (dissolved in water and applied with irrigation) onto mixed perennial ryegrass and white clover pastures. Over a period of eight months, seven harvests were taken, with each of the three application treatments producing similar amounts of dry matter (DM).

A second trial compared pasture production across different fertigation application frequencies. Nitrogen was either fertigated once a month or weekly onto mixed perennial ryegrass and white clover pastures. An identical total amount of N was applied in both cases – 25 kg N/ha once a month or 6.25 kg N/ha per week. Both approaches again produced similar amounts of DM.

Overall, fertigation did not result in increased pasture production or quality across different N treatments. All treatments produced similar pasture quality measurements, including crude protein, neutral detergent fibre content and metabolisable energy.

What about timing and application rate?

The second year of the project, during the 2020/21 season, looked at the effect of fertigation only in shoulder months, and of varying application rates.

One trial tested whether applying fertiliser only in shoulder months (as opposed to throughout the season) would produce similar pasture production and quality, due to increased clover content boosting production throughout the summer season.

A second trial, looking at fertigation application rates, compared the pasture production, pasture quality and clover content produced by fertigation at 16 kg N/ha, 20 kg N/ha and 24 kg N/ha.

The SFF project began with small plot trials at Lincoln University as well as on-farm monitoring at Pāmu’s Waimakariri Dairy Unit. Ballance Agri-Nutrients is collaborating with IrrigationNZ, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Pāmu Farms of New Zealand and others on the project.

The project’s year 1 summary results report is available here, while the year 2 results were due to be released by IrrigationNZ in spring 2021.

About the Author

Related

Preventing facial eczema

Preventing facial eczema

Summer is just around the corner and with that comes the risk of facial eczema (FE).

Read More >
COVID-19 Update - 27/03/20

COVID-19 Update - 27/03/20

We want to stay open and support your farming business with essential items, and we are also priorit...

Read More >
Beef Genetics Add Value to Dairy Beef

Beef Genetics Add Value to Dairy Beef

Dairy beef makes up the bulk of this country’s beef exports and by using the correct beef genetics,...

Read More >
Agronomy Update Summer 2021

Agronomy Update Summer 2021

Spring has once again delivered a variety of weather conditions after a warmer than usual August and...

Read More >
You’ll rate it too

You’ll rate it too

Latest independent performance trials for New Zealand pastures have reinforced what farmers have alr...

Read More >
Agronomy Update

Agronomy Update

The autumn period like last year has produced a consistent spell of warmer weather. With only a coup...

Read More >
Account Selector