The fertiliser industry is one of several large service industries that form an important role within the New Zealand economy. Could there be an increasing demand for independent advisers from farmers looking to ensure their best options for soil fertility?
I recently did a presentation on soil fertility, soil nutrients and their fate to the Wairarapa Rural Women’s Initiative Group in Alfredton. Although the group are still relatively early in their journey toward alternative inputs, the presentation provided valuable information moving forward.
The presentation raised points outlining the importance of soil input, plant, animal and soil health:
- Fertiliser and fuel prices have increased. Farmers must prioritise fertiliser spending to get the best value for the money spent. Producing enough high quality feed is the priority for each farmer.
- Proper testing is essential – soil, pasture and animal blood tests are a must. Less than 1% of fertiliser cost is spent on testing. Farming is the most important New Zealand sector producing ~65% of NZ GDP. It all comes from growing something on the land. Proper testing is required as basic soil tests will give you only part of the information you need.
- Soil pH and therefore liming is often overlooked in NZ. ‘The worst performing paddocks on a farm’ I have found, ‘have low soil pH and consequently, high soil solution Aluminium (Al)’. High soil solution Al retards root growth, impacting the herbage quantity and quality above ground which consequently leads to poor production.
- The five major factors that drive pasture production are soil moisture, soil temperature, soil pH and 13 elements, soil microbes and soil aeration (compaction). A 6th could be the type of species in the pasture sward.
- The overuse of phosphate (P) in the wrong form – will either lead to accumulation of P in the soil if it can hold it, or losses into waterways via run off or leaching (on low P retentive soils), particularly if highly soluble and applied at the wrong time (2 weeks before rainfall or irrigation).
- Plants need 13 elements for pasture growth and another 3 (Co, Se & I) for animal health – not just Phosphate (and consequently) Sulphur, on which nearly 90% of fertiliser sales concentrate on.
- Farmers must budget for lime and apply the sixteen elements for plant, soil and animal health. They have enough in their budget to do all. They just need to understand the importance of high quality testing for high quality production.
Dr Gordon Rajendram is a New Zealand Independent Soil Scientist specialising in Soil Fertility, Agronomy & Farm Environmental Consultancy.