Country Wide March 2014
Enhancing the Efficiency of Nitrogen Fertiliser
New Zealand farmers use 350,000 tonnes of fertiliser nitrogen (N) annually to boost pasture production. Enhancing the efficiency of use of fertiliser N has large implications economically and environmentally for New Zealand.
With funding from Agmardt a small start-up company Eko360 Ltd based out of Auckland has been investigating over the last 12 months the chemical and agronomic performance of a new type of controlled release N fertiliser (Smartfert) developed in Malaysia.
Eko360 Ltd has retained the expertise of well-known soil scientist Dr Doug Edmeades of agKnowledge Ltd to provide them with scientific and technical advice. A five-step research plan was commenced 12 months ago to manufacture, evaluate and test 4 experimental lines of Smartfert with different N release characteristics.
Laboratory leaching experiments have confirmed that the rate of release of N from the Smartfert is slower than that of urea and that by altering the manufacturing process the release rates can be adjusted.
Commenting on these results Dr Edmeades said that “developing a truly slow release N fertiliser had been the holy grail of the international fertiliser industry for over 50 years”. “These laboratory results are exciting – the grail may have been found.”
The next step in the research program was to test whether these results could be repeated in the presence of soil and plants. A glasshouse study was undertaken using ryegrass as the test plant on an ash soil. The experiment was carefully designed so that the N uptake of the ryegrass was a measure of the N release rates of the Smartfert. The N release characteristics from the glasshouse study were very similar to those found in the laboratory. As Dr Edmeades said, “with these results we can now say we have ‘proof of concept’ – the products work in the soil in a predictable manner.”
Further evidence for this comes from an initial replicated “look-see” trial on a commercial farm. The cumulative pasture production over five months (October to February) was greater from Smartfert (applied at either 25 or 50 kg N/ha) relative to urea applied at the same rates indicating that the NUE of Smartfert was higher than from.
With this preliminary but essential research completed Dr Edmeades said he was “comfortable about recommending greater investment in Smartfert looking at their agronomic and possible economic benefits in field trials on different soils and under different climates.” “The implications for this research are huge,” said Dr Edmeades.
“It is important to have continual field trials and for these to be in co-operation with the farming industry,’’ says Bruce Smith of Eko360.
“There is a significant amount of industry and Government research funding available to agriculture in New Zealand. The challenge is to steer it away from the established companies to small businesses that bring true innovation such as controlling the release fertiliser nutrients for broad acre agriculture. This development has many benefits for the people in the farming community, the environment and over all farming profitability,” Smith says.
Fertco of Tauranga now stock and distribute Smartfert on behalf of Eko360. “Having New Zealand science behind Smartfert gives confidence to farmers to try the product and to see how it can be a benefit to their situation,” Fertco CEO Warwick Voyce says.