Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser cap

The use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers on land is linked to lowered water quality in rivers, streams, and groundwater. This fertiliser use, and the more intensive land use it allows, needs to be balanced with actions to protect waterways.

From 1 July 2021, a cap on the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser applies on any contiguous parcel of pastoral land. The cap has been set at 190 kg per hectare per year.

Using fertiliser efficiently

Nitrogen applied to pasture that isn't taken up by plants can leach into groundwater and end up in downgradient waterways, including sensitive environments and drinking water sources.

Efficient fertiliser use is about making sure that more of the fertiliser that you apply goes to its intended purpose – promoting pasture growth.

More efficient fertiliser use will save you money on purchasing fertiliser and lead to better environmental outcomes.

Recording and reporting synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use

On 1 July 2021, the Government introduced a cap on the application of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser for land grazed by livestock under the new Essential Freshwater package.

On grazed pasture, you can no longer apply more than 190 kg of synthetic nitrogen per hectare per year (190kg N/ha/year) without resource consent. This limit applies both as an average for the farm*, and to each hectare (with a limited exception for land used to grow annual forage crops).

Dairy farmers must also record synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use and report it back to us each year.

*Farm in this case refers to a contiguous landholding – that is, each adjoining or touching land parcel is considered part of the same farm, while land parcels that don’t border others are considered separate farms.

Which farms does the synthetic nitrogen cap apply to?

The cap on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use only applies to pastoral land – that is, land on which livestock is grazed. This does not include the grazing of the stubble of a crop that has been harvested after arable land use. 

On land with mixed use, the 190kg N/ha/year limit applies when the land is being used for the grazing of livestock, from crop or pasture preparation until grazing finishes.

It's important you measure your synthetic nitrogen use to ensure it is below 190kg N/ha/year. You can use our calculator (XLSX file, 103 KB) to determine this, and if required, review your farming practices to reduce your use.

How to submit your synthetic nitrogen use report 

Dairy farmers are now required to report their annual synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use to us. This report is to cover the period from 1 July–30 June and is to be submitted by 31 July each year.

Submit your data through the National Online Reporting Tool. For help using this tool, please refer to these videos.

The major fertiliser suppliers Ballance and Ravensdown have also developed tools you can use to record and report your synthetic fertiliser use, through the MyBallance and HawkEye programmes, respectively. Prior to submitting, you will need to confirm that you agree to any policies or agreements required by these tools.

If you are not currently a customer, you may still be able to use these tools. Visit the Ballance website or contact HawkEye customer support on 0800 73 73 73 to find out how.

What information you'll need to report

Contact information

  • Full name
  • Contact phone number
  • Email address

Farm information

  • New Zealand Business Number (NZBN)
  • Farm name 
  • Dairy supply number
  • Dairy company name
  • Total farm area (in hectares)
  • Total effective area (area farmed, in hectares)  
  • Geospatial boundary (Add a geospatial shape file of boundary. Depending on how your data is submitted you may be able to select the geospatial area on a map.)
  • Receipts for fertiliser purchases:
    • supplier's name
    • date of purchase
    • item description
    • item unit purchased (kg)
  • Dairy effluent consent number (you can find this using our consent search tool)

Information for each *farm

  • Name / label (give a name or number for each land parcel)
  • Total area in hectares (If you have only one contiguous land holding, this will be the same as total farm area; if you have more than one contiguous land holding, the sum of total areas should be the same as the total farm area.)
  • Geospatial boundary
  • Grazed land area (in hectares)
  • Grazed forage crop area (in hectares)
  • Grazed non-forage land area (in hectares)
  • Ungrazed land area (in hectares)

*Farm in this case refers to a contiguous landholding – that is, each adjoining or touching land parcel is considered part of the same farm, while land parcels that don’t border others are considered separate farms.

Synthetic nitrogen cap calculation

  • Reporting year (e.g. 2022)

The following four can be calculated using the Ballance or HawkEye tools, or our Excel calculator (XLSX file, 102.5).

  • Grazed land nitrogen application rate 
  • Grazed forage crop application rate
  • Grazed non-forage crop application rate
  • Ungrazed land application rate
  • Confirmation that less than 190kg of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser per hectare has been applied to grazed pasture 

Fertiliser application

  • Fertiliser name and manufacturer
  • Day of application
  • Percentage of nitrogen in fertiliser

More information

In October 2021, the Ministry for the Environment published several nitrogen cap guidance documents, covering the different types of farming operations. You can also contact your fertiliser supplier for more advice on measuring and meeting the nitrogen cap. If you cannot meet the 190kg N/ha/year cap (at both property and hectare level), you will need to apply for resource consent.

For help with using the synthetic nitrogen reporting tool, the developers have released a series of tutorial videos.

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