Thursday, 16 March 2017

The value of a robust nutrient budget


Farmers are faced with a barrage of discussion around environmental compliance and the necessary paper work required.

Included is the need for Farm Environmental Plans (FEPs) outlining actions to mitigate known risk factors within your farm.

Nutrient Management is a common item in all FEPs, but is seen by some in the industry as secondary to other aspects of the plan. As a result, basic nutrient budgets become acceptable. Be warned, this has implications on the outcome of the budget, and the results taken from it.

Where nutrient losses are the main focus of a plan, and the nutrient budget is the key input, a robust nutrient budget is vital - whether it is required for compliance or not.

There are three fundamental reasons why not having a robust nutrient budget is a risk for your farm business, and environmental planning going forward.

Your business must look forward, not backward

Looking forward to where you want to be is best practice for any proactive business. Good decisions are based on the best information available at the time, which is what a robust nutrient budget provides. It will look at where your farm system is heading, your expected productivity gains, where these will be achieved (and how), ultimately altering farm inputs with actions and future mitigations modelled.

Even with the council’s push towards FEPs, with less emphasis on the figures of losses, there is still a need from some to be as precise about their losses, down to the last kilogram. The reasoning behind this is the requirement to demonstrate N-loss compliance and the value of nitrogen (N) mitigations (cost benefits).

Right questions for the right place

A better appreciation of the key sources of risk within the farm system, and the level of that risk leads to better, more informed decisions. This detail ensures the modelling is the right fit for the farm system and results in a better understanding of the output.

The difference between a nutrient budget for regulatory purposes versus one for fertiliser recommendations is that you are required to go beyond management zones and accurately split into soil types, catchment boundaries, sub-catchments, water management zones, nutrient allocation zones and a variety of other layers such as, water holding capacities, water quality zones, additional stock management zones and riparian areas.

Nutrient Budgets should be completed by people with CNMA registration. The Nutrient Management Adviser Certification Programme (NMACP) is a transparent and industry recognised system of formal certification of advisers, providing greater quality assurance for the industry. Part of the standards set for advisers is to have fully understood the system being modelled and therefore a site visit is an essential part of this process; to ensure the right questions and detail is asked for.

Reducing Business Risk

Submitting a Predictive Nutrient Budget, meant for fertiliser recommendations, as a regulatory nutrient budget presents major risks for both the farm and the company providing the original Fertiliser Recommendation Budget. It might feel like compliance, but can be challenged at a later date causing delays resulting in costs to your business. A more fit-for-purpose nutrient budget will be required in the end.

In summary, why would you want to scrimp on money with a multimillion dollar enterprise which needs to be future proofed to face the future challenges? Would you place the security of this business on a document, which may have your best interest as a focus but doesn’t ask the hard questions and fails to understand the full farm system you intend to manage and ultimately profit from?