Smartfert trials advance to next stage

 

Heartland Agronomy August 2014, back cover

 

Richard Rennie

 

A slow release nitrogen fertiliser suitable for both crop and grassland application has taken a step closer to scientific sign off with field trials due to commence in coming weeks.

 

AgKnowledge director and soil scientist Dr Doug Edmeades has been commissioned by Auckland firm Eko360 Ltd to establish the effectiveness of the company’s polymer coated control release nitrogen fertiliser, Smartfert.

 

A second tranche of Agmardt funding is enabling Dr Edmeades to conduct four field trial plot studies on the fertiliser.

Initial Agmardt funding enabled laboratory expiriments  and glass house trials to be carried out by AgResearch.

 

The results of this research work proved encouraging.

 "The laboratory experiments confirmed the rate of nitrogen (N) release from Smartfert is slower than that of urea, and that   by adjusting manufacturing process, the release rates can be adjusted,” Dr Edmeades said.

 

The initial results were reinforced with the glasshouse trials.

 

The laboratory experiments established that in the absence of soil the product was confirmed as a control release N fertiliser.

 

The glasshouse trials following that work used rye grass to establish and measure the rate of Smartfert’s N release.

The results were similar to those attained from the laboratory trials, and have established “proof of concept” Dr Edmeades said.

 

The upcoming field trials have been designed to quantify the rate of release and the amount of pasture produced from applicating Smartfert.

 

Dr Edmeades said the trials would identify if  nitrogen could therefore be applied once every three months, and if by better matching N release to plant uptake less N would have to be applied.

 

The trials would also provide an indicator of “nutrient use efficiency” with Smartfert application trials indicating the kg of dry matter grown per kg of N applied as the fertiliser.

 

 “If these trials show an improvement in N use efficiency then that is a big plus, but it has to be proven in the field.”

Dr Edmeades said with arable and pastoral farming under pressure to manage nutrient loss, controlling nutrient losses from fertiliser application is a valuable first step in helping reduce those losses.

 

Trial work conducted in New Zealand by Eko360 on the Smartfert  polymer coated fertiliser has included a significant number of crops with 1ha comparative plots including maize and sweetcorn growers in Bay of Plenty , Waikato, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.

The field assessments compared Smartfert control release nitrogen fertiliser  to nitrogen from standard urea applications. Yield assessments revealed similar or in some cases better results can be achieved using lower rates of nitrogen from Smartfert, than standard urea.

 

A number of commercial farmers have already started using the commercially available product, including Manawatu crop farmer Hew Dalrymple.

 

Farming under the Horizons One Plan means he is acutely aware of the impact nutrient losses and caps will have on his properties’ future output.

He has conducted some informal on farm trials with Smartfert, and welcomes the formal trials Dr Edmeades is undertaking.

“It will not be a magic wand, but over time science like this means we will be better able to manage our manageable inputs, like fertiliser application. If we can show these products are control release, I would be very supportive of these types of products.”

 

Hawke’s Bay drystock and arable farmer Pete Connor has found applying Smartfert has delivered a more measured, constant level of nitrogen to his sweetcorn crops under irrigation.

“I have noticed the green colouring in the plant appears to be more constant, we don’t get that yellowing you sometimes see prior to applying conventional nitrogen.” 

He has found the crops with Smartfert applied have consistently performed at high yield levels while having Smartfert applied at half the rate of conventional nitrogen product.

 

Like Hew Dalyrymple he is hoping the trials validate his on farm experience with Smartfert.

“The nitrogen all seems to be utilised, rather than leaching out, hopefully we can show that using this sort of product means we can still make a profit, and use less N, its got to be good for everyone.”

 

Eko360 Ltd’s  managing director Bruce Smith has welcomed the trials’ progression on Smartfert, and the move to take the trials into a formal field trial assessment.

“The laboratory and glasshouse experiments provide scientific proof that the Smartfert technology controls the release of nutrients over a given period. We have also observed significant increases in nitrogen use efficiency with Smartfert over traditional urea when applied to pasture and cropping situations."

“Having the opportunity to now replicate these observations in on farm field trials, will provide confidence to the agricultural community that these products have a valued place in farm fertiliser programmes.”