Guideline Index

Chapter 10: Keeping Nutrients on Farm

10.6 Summary

In this section:

10.6.1 Significance

Losing nutrients from a dairy farm is:

  • wasting increasingly expensive inputs, effectively increasing the cost of production per litre of milk, and
  • increasing the risk of adverse environmental impacts.

The waste of important nutrient resources and the risk of adverse impacts may trigger community responses which result in increased regulation of farming activities and/or market reactions and trade barriers.

Keeping nutrients on farm can improve gross margins and enable dairy farmers to proudly promote their sound environmental ethics.

10.6.2 Best practice checklist

In this section: Management principles and strategies

The key strategies to retain nutrients on dairy farms, and optimise production and profit, are:

Understand nutrients in the environment

  • Know the source of nutrients
  • Understand nutrient stores and transformations
  • Know how nutrients are lost

Plan to retain nutrients on-farm

  • Analyse farm nutrient status
  • Determine production potentials
  • Assess risks and identify critical source areas
  • Document a plan
  • Monitor and evaluate

Optimise production

  • Get top value from low-risk areas
  • Recycle nutrients
  • Optimise irrigation efficiency
  • Consider stock as a management tool

Minimise losses

  • Avoid direct losses
  • Reduce and re-use run-off
  • Lock-up excess nutrients Management practices

Examples of how those principles may be applied, with reference to practices recorded in DairySAT, are:

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Understand nutrients

Plan to retain nutrients

Optimise production

Minimise loss

  • Understand the types of erosion occurring and their causes.
  • A plan is in place to minimise erosion.
  • Management minimises compaction and pugging.
  • Irrigation is managed to minimise overwatering and waterlogging.
  • Management avoids soil acidification.
  • Management minimises erosion.
  • Understand why soil sampling is needed.
  • Correctly taken soil samples are regularly collected from representative areas.
  • A farm nutrient management plan guides fertiliser applications.
  • Soil constraints are considered when determining nutrient requirements.
  • Calibrated or Accuspread-accredited fertiliser spreaders are used.
  • Effluent is used as a fertiliser with rates determined by soil nutrient (and water) requirements.
  • Buffers are used to protect waterways and drains from fertilisers.
  • Additional nutrients are not applied to critical source areas.
  • Fertiliser applications are timed to avoid run-off.
  • Ponds have been integrated into the farm plan.
  • Ponds are correctly sized and managed.
  • Manure stockpiles are sited away from sensitive areas and are bunded.
  • Feedpads are designed for appropriate effluent, manure and waste feed management.
  • Effluent is retained on-farm and reused for productive gains.
  • Effluent composition is tested and is suitably distributed to match application rates with soil, pasture and crop requirements.
  • Ponds are emptied regularly.
  • Ponds are desludged when required.
  • Sump/traps have sufficient capacity and spare pumps are on hand.
  • Buffers are used to protect waterways and drains from effluent.

Understand nutrients

Plan to retain nutrients

Optimise production

Minimise loss

  • Seasonal water use is measured.
  • Irrigation scheduling is based on plant water use or soil moisture.
  • Management avoids run-off and deep drainage.
Greenhouse gases
  • Nitrogenous fertiliser sources are selected to minimise nitrogen losses.
  • Effluent is tested for nitrogen levels.
  • Nitrogen is applied when pastures are actively growing and can use the N.
  • Nitrogen fertiliser application rates are kept below 50 kgN/ha per application.
  • Effluent application is timed to avoid wet conditions and maximise plant uptake.
  • On/off grazing or stand-off areas are used to minimise pugging of wet soils.
  • Nitrogen is not applied to water-logged soils, before irrigation/heavy rains and for at least 2-5 days after irrigation/heavy rains.
  • Nitrification inhibitor sprays are applied once or twice in wetter months.
  • Farm plan seeks to improve native biodiversity and environments; e.g. through grazing management.
  • Stock are provided with alternative (non-riparian) watering points.
  • Riparian and wetland areas are fenced for stock control.
  • Bare riparian areas are revegetated.