Fertiliser and the future

Beneath the surface
with David Law
Forward Farming

 If you’ve been shocked by your fertiliser bill in the last six months, you’re not alone.

Since the advent of Covid-19, and the resulting supply chain disruptions, we have seen the price of fertiliser rise dramatically - and since Fieldays 2021, it has risen not once but twice.

A lot of fertiliser, such as sulphur and potassium, come from overseas so which company you buy through doesn’t really matter.

And with the news earlier this year that China will be temporarily suspending exports of NPK fertiliser, the price increase trend is expected to continue.

Farmers are seriously thinking about their fertiliser use, and what will be financially viable in the future.

What farmers can do, though, is understand the importance of getting their soil tested, to make they are not adding nutrients they don’t need. A lot of fertiliser companies are good at placing emphasis on sales and selling farmers what they don’t need.

Farmers need to be knowledgeable and deal with people they trust; people they know will steer them straight.

The Total Replacement Therapy approach emphasises a system that alters the pH of the soil, which in turn makes a lot of ‘fertiliser’ products obsolete; a balanced pH will encourage existing nutrients in the soil to become available naturally.

So instead of buying the products you think you need, sometimes it’s more cost effective to alter the pH of the soil and let nature do its thing.

We send our soil tests to Perry Agricultural Lab in Missouri, which gives us scientifically-based nutrient recommendations so we can accurately adjust the nutrient levels now and in the future.

In New Zealand, a lot of farms have healthy amounts of phosphorus, but farmers keep adding phosphorus; what they are actually lacking is calcium or magnesium, among  other things.

There has also been a large increase in people using liquid fertilisers, because there is a belief that if they add nitrogen in a liquid form, they will only need half the amount of N for double the response.

This may be true, if the soil is balanced in the first place.

But if you add a liquid biological agent without balancing the soil first, you may get a short-term result, but it is unlikely to last.

The importance of having the farm ready before the liquid goes on cannot be understated. The worms and the clover will come, naturally, if the soil is balanced.

Through our work, we have found we can balance a farm in 12-18 months, cost-effectively.

We have created a concise, rapid solution that is sustainable in the long term.

As we approach the two-year mark, we are continuing to see incredible results on our Whakatane demonstration farm.

Farmer Alan Law saw a feed gap coming this spring so he applied 100kg of ammonium sulphate (equivalent to 20 units/N) - and the growth in one week was incredible.

“We will never go back to the way we used to farm,” Alan says. “It is getting better and better all the time.”

Alan’s son Brandon Law, who farms nearby and is nine months behind his father in the Total Replacement Therapy journey, is also seeing incredible results.

He has reduced his N application to 80 units/ha annually but has added 100 cows to his herd, with plenty of grass to go around.

With fertiliser costs going up, farmers are thinking: ‘how are we going to survive?’

When you change your system, you will see the cost benefits for yourself.

We are planning a series of on-farm field days in the Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Taranaki from November 2021.

With some uncertainty around current Covid-19 restrictions, we will release confirmed dates as soon as possible.


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