Managing nutrient loss on farms

By Sustainability Matters Staff
Wednesday, 13 September, 2017


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A Victoria University of Wellington researcher has developed a tool that will help New Zealand farmers lower their environmental footprints and better manage nutrient loss into waterways.

Dr Bethanna Jackson originally developed the Land Utilisation and Capability Indicator (LUCI) for application in Wales, where she has been working since 2006 on land use interventions to help mitigate flooding and provide other environmental benefits.

With LUCI now operating successfully overseas, Dr Jackson and her research team began collaborating with farmer-owned cooperative Ravensdown in 2015 to see how the tool could be applied to New Zealand farms. As a result, newly developed software building on the core LUCI tool will be used by Ravensdown specialists to help farmers identify at-risk areas for nutrient loss.

“Managing nutrient losses on farms has been a hot topic over recent years,” said Dr Jackson. “Central government, iwi, regional councils and the entire agrisector are all grappling with this challenge and working to find effective solutions.”

While applying too little fertiliser will affect the growth and nutritional value of pasture, Dr Jackson said, applying too much in the wrong place or at the wrong time can create an increased risk of nutrients being lost to fresh water which, among other ecological effects, might stimulate algal blooms that could damage aquatic life.

“It’s not just about reducing the volume of fertiliser or the number of animals — there are also options to intercept nutrients before they get into waterways,” she said.

In some regions, where nutrient loss is especially problematic, farmers and other community members are looking to take action as part of a collective group as waterways typically flow through or border multiple farms. Dr Jackson noted, “The use of Ravensdown’s bespoke version of the LUCI tool means farmers can target certain areas for mitigations, and then map the effectiveness of those mitigations in reducing farm nutrient losses and improving freshwater quality.

“Ravensdown is the perfect partner to help us develop this new technology, as the company has the ability to take it to market where the software can really make a difference to farming and the environment.”

The venture marks the beginning of a long-term relationship between Victoria University and Ravensdown, facilitated by the university’s commercialisation office, Viclink. Ravensdown Chief Executive Greg Campbell said his company is driving towards a thriving, environmentally sustainable agrisector built on partnerships that support its focus on sound science and smarter farming.

“By partnering with leading minds at science institutions such as Victoria University, we aim to reduce environmental impacts, increase production efficiency, build stronger rural communities and help the nation to prosper,” said Campbell. “The strength of our relationships and collaboration across academics, researchers, farmers and their advisors will be how we all win — enabling smarter farming for a better New Zealand.”

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