New investment aims to boost soil and freshwater health, and reduce farm emissions

The Government is co-investing in a $22 million programme aimed at significantly reducing agricultural greenhouse gases and nitrate leaching.

Announcing this today, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the Government has committed $7.3 million over seven years to the N-Vision NZ programme through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund.

The programme focuses on three technology streams –

  • N-Retain is a new nitrification inhibitor technology that will look at new ways to block the biological processes in the soil that lead to nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate leaching.
  • N-Test is a new soil test to inform nitrogen fertiliser decisions on pastoral farms, that will help capitalise on the nitrogen already in soil organic matter. This could mean less nitrogen fertiliser needs to be applied.
  • N-Bio Boost is a fungal bio-inoculant to increase nitrogen use efficiency, which will examine how naturally occurring fungi boost the nitrogen efficiency of plants as another way to future-proof productivity.

Mr O’Connor said innovative tools and technologies are needed to help farmers reduce nitrogen fertiliser use on pastoral farms while maintaining production and profitability.

Ravensdown is leading the programme and will contribute $11 million cash, with Lincoln University and Plant & Food Research providing research expertise.

Ravensdown and Lincoln University will contribute in-kind funding to the value of $3.8 million.

Damien O’Connor said the products and technologies developed through the N-Vision NZ programme will be made widely available under commercial terms.

“This will ensure that the environmental and economic benefits extend to the whole of New Zealand and not just Ravensdown’s customers,” Damien O’Connor said.

“This Government is focussed on helping farmers reduce their environmental footprint. In Budget 22 we announced the establishment of the Centre for Climate Action on Agricultural Emissions – a partnership with business to drive product development so farmers can play their part in New Zealand meeting its climate goals. We have also committed to restoring our waterways within a generation.

This work aligns with the sustainability goals of the Fit for a Better World food and fibre sector roadmap, Mr O’Connor said.

“Partnerships like N-Vision NZ will help us meet these goals and maintain our economic strength.

“Finding new methods to take action for the health of our soils, waterways, and climate will pave the way towards a healthier future for us all,” Damien O’Connor said.

 A press statement from Ravensdown said the research programme promises to further reduce the environmental impact of New Zealand agriculture, with naturally occurring soil fungus shaping as a new hero, assisting farmers with more efficient nitrogen use.

One of the projects will harness the power of humble natural strains of soil fungi to increase the efficiency of nitrogen use by plants, Ravensdown General Manager of Innovation and Strategy Mike Manning explained.

“Lincoln University researchers have discovered natural strains of fungi that reduce the activity of specific microbes, which are involved with nitrogen cycling and losses. These nitrogen losses can occur as nitrate leaching through the soil, which has potential detrimental effect on waterways, and as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas emission.

“Although it occurs naturally in pastoral soils at a relatively low level, the fungi can be applied to soil as either a prill or seed coating. Doing so increases the level of the fungi and therefore alters the nitrogen cycle to reduce nitrogen losses. Research to date indicates this has a strong potential to mitigate both greenhouse gas emissions and reduce nitrogen loss to waterways,” he said.

Another of the projects will develop an accurate gauge of the nitrogen already in the soil, enabling farmers to apply more precise quantities of nitrogen fertiliser for optimum plant growth.

The third will research nitrification inhibitors, which have the potential to significantly lower nitrous oxide emissions and nitrogen leaching from grazed pasture systems.

Sources:  Minister of Agriculture and Ravensdown

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog