Are you ready to step up? (Part 1)

Better soils
with Brett Petersen
Kiwi Fertiliser & Golden Bay Dolomite

Are you ready to step up? Are, you happy with the regular fertiliser program you have been using? Did it meet your expectations?

Does it build soil fertility year after year, or are the results you get reliant on that annual application, rather than on inherent soil fertility?

Often farmers get complacent with the same old fertiliser program, which is expensive and doesn’t seem to give the resilience and meet the regulations and environmental goals that are now required. Chances are it is a repetition of a national recipe designed to meet the sales targets of the supplier, and not at all tuned for your property or different parts of it.

Doing the same thing year after year and expecting a different result was Einstein’s “definition of insanity.”  

Are you ready to step up, change gears, unlock your soil’s potential, and take it to another level?

Like you, we find fertiliser is expensive too, but when it is part of a structured plan, there comes a time when the soil becomes more self-supporting, and inputs are reduced as the chemical, biological and physical systems synchronise.

Exactly how long that takes to achieve and how “expensive” it is, depends upon the starting point. Current systems overwhelmingly concentrate on chemicals that are not conducive to microbial health or good soil structure. Each case is different. There are no set recipes. Inputs must all be tailor-made to fit each soil test result.

Over the last several decades new information and science has been developed around biological agriculture with changed thinking about management processes and farming practises emphasizing nutrient uptake from soils through natural biological cycles.

This ecological-based agriculture approach uses microbes and carbon compounds to produce crops naturally rather than relying on highly soluble nutrient inputs for plant growth. If the way of thinking expands to include biology as well as chemistry, a whole new world will be discovered.  

Microbes interact with plants to provide the plants with nutrients. They work in harmony. There is much less ability for harmful organisms to cause diseases when soil biology is balanced.

The oxygen and water content of the soil is vital for this process.  Management practises that compact soils, and over-reliance on soluble chemical fertilisers lead to a hostile environment for beneficial microbes.

In the next decade the lack of fertiliser efficiency and the percentage of nutrients applied that have not been taken up by the plant will become more evident.

In The United States about 54 per cent of all N fertiliser applied to maize crops is lost to the environment. In New Zealand it is probably higher.

In traditional farming circles if nutrients are removed from the soil by either crops or animals, and not replaced, it was claimed the soil was being mined.

If animals are grazing multi-species grasses and legume pastures, they are recycling those nutrients back into the soil. But the removal of nutrients from high yielding hay, silage, or grain crops from the field, is slightly different. The theory was those nutrients would need to be replaced with fertiliser applications to hold the fertility status of the soil. However, a well-balanced mineral and biological active soil using regenerative practises (e.g., organic, no-till, compost, cover-crops, fish, seaweed, natural slow-release fertilisers, biological products, carbon sources and more,) that is not necessarily the case.

Part Two of this column will appear in the August edition of Coast and Country News or the full version can be found at

The soil can make available some of the nutrients required, substituting for applied fertiliser.

To provide top performance a soil should be composed of 45 per cent mineral 5 per cent organic matter and 50 per cent pore spaces, being occupied by 50 per cent air and 50 per cent water to provide the correct environment for the microbes.

The Albrecht system of soil fertility uses chemistry, (Ca and Mg) to affect soil physical structure which determines the environment for the biology.

Soil microbes interact with plant roots and minerals to release plant nutrients to provide nutrition to the plants. Fertilisers need to be calculated to complement this natural process.

This is demonstrated with a biological fertiliser program on a dairy farm, where production has shown an increase of .2 kg of milk solids per cow per day with 50 per cent less nitrogen applied compared to traditional fertiliser practises.

Another dairy hill farm increased pasture production from 10.8tDM/ha to 16.2tDM/ha over five years and only applied 3kgN/ha. As one farmer put it, “you can’t grow 23t/haDM if you are fertilising for 13.” Yes, that was his farm’s improvement, not to mention the increased quality, production, and profitability.

For cereal growing, soil scientists’ and agronomists’ calculations to determine nitrogen requirements to grow one tonne of wheat was 25kgN/ha, the calculation being, say 14 tonnes yield, minus N that was already in the soil, say 80 kgs/ha and supply the rest from applications of nitrogen fertiliser, (14x25=350-80=270 kgs N/ha).

In a wheat growing competition organised by the Methven A&P Association in the 2021-22 season, Springfield Estate grew a feed wheat crop, which yielded 16.1t/ha. This is nearing world record levels.

More significant than the yield was increased profitability. This yield was produced with half the normal nitrogen applications, with less fungicide, herbicide, no insecticide, and minimal cultivations.

The previous crop was a daikon radish seed crop direct drilled into a grass-seed/grazing field. The soil provided 66 per cent of the N and mineral requirements for the crop, with sufficient in the soil to not require applied nitrogen.

Over the last decade the farm has taken a biological approach and focused on resetting the balance of minerals, enhancing photosynthesis, carbon management, and raising the microbiology levels in the soil.

This required studying, re-educating, and understanding of how soil and plants work, understanding the importance of biology, how it functions and the role of different microbes in the soil, how to support, feed and the management changes required, and to mitigate any harmful practises to soil and the biology.

All of these practises were designed to enhance soil life and improve nutrient efficiency to provide resilience in the farming operation. The objective is to increase farm profit rather than spend most of it on fertilisers, therapeutics and other costs that take a back seat when the sciences of chemistry, biology and physics are correctly combined by using the Albrecht system of soil fertility and the manuals published by Kinsey Agricultural Services. The manuals are in-turn based on the figures produced from soil samples tested by Perry Agricultural Laboratory. At Kiwi Fertiliser, we religiously follow these practices with all our clients.

Many thanks to Don Hart of Springfield Estate.


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