Soil Scientist rates N fert prospects

 

Dairy News 20th March 2014 pg 19

 

Richard Rennie

 

Lab trial results on a slow release fertiliser have a leading soil scientist excited about its prospects for New Zealand farmers struggling to limit farm nitrogen losses.

Dr Doug Edmeades of AgKnowledge has been working with Auckland firm Eko360 providing scientific and technical advice on establishing the effectiveness of the company’s slow release nitrogen (N) fertiliser, Smartfert.

Agmardt funding is helping the small start-up company to investigate the performance of Smartfert in New Zealand pastoral situations.

The results of laboratory work conducted in the past year have proven highly encouraging.

“Laboratory leaching experiments have confirmed the rate of N release from Smartfert is slower than that of urea, and by adjusting the manufacturing process, release rates can be adjusted,” Dr Edmeades said.

Dr Edmeades said the results were exciting, and a step closer to the “holy grail” of fertiliser research, to develop a truly slow release N fertiliser.

Glasshouse trials following the lab work have added to Smartfert’s positive prospects. Using rye grass in the glasshouse trials it was possible to measure the rate of N uptake by the grass as the test plant, acting as a measure of Smartfert’s N release.

The results proved to be very similar to those gained from the initial laboratory trials.

“We now have proof of concept established that the product works in the soil in a predictable manner,” Dr Edmeades said.

An early “look see” trial that measured cumulative dry matter production on a commercial dairy (CHK) farm from October to February has also proven positive.

It revealed greater cumulative dry matter production over that period off the pasture treated with 25kgN/ha and 50kgN/ha as Smartfert, compared to the equivalent rates applied as conventional urea. This indicates the nitrogen uptake efficiency of Smartfert was higher than from urea.

While this field trial work was only preliminary, Dr Edmeades said it was nevertheless essential early research. He was comfortable recommending Smartfert directors invest further to examine the agronomic and possible economic benefits of field trials over different soils and climate types.

“The implications for this research are huge,” he said.

Pastoral farming is under pressure to manage nutrient losses through soil profiles, with catchment plans in many regions poised to dictate how great those losses can be. Controlling nitrogen losses from fertiliser application is a valuable first step in helping reduce those losses.

Smartfert has recently earned the support of Tauranga based fertiliser company Fertco which now stocks and distributes it on behalf of its manufacturers Eko360.

Fertco chief executive Warwick Voyce said having New Zealand science behind Smartfert gives confidence to farmers to try the product and see how it best benefits their situation.

Eko360 director and founder Bruce Smith said he was looking forward to further field trials in co-operation with the farming industry.

He was encouraged by the significant amount of industry and government funding available to agriculture in New Zealand.

However he said the challenge was to steer it towards small innovative businesses that are developing genuinely new, valuable technology that can help pastoral farming face one of its greatest challenges in coming years, in dealing with nutrient losses that impact on the environment and farm profitability.