Comment: Practical fertigation research getting underway

By: IrrigationNZ CEO Elizabeth Soal

Irrigation NZ is leading a new research project with funding from the MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures programme

The project will examine the use and potential of fertigation in New Zealand. Fertigation is a way of applying liquid fertiliser in small quantities through irrigation systems at the same time as water.

Tommy Ley, a Lincoln University master’s student working on a sample plot before fertigation experiments get underway this spring

Internationally, fertigation has been adopted in some areas as good environmental practice and used as a tool to reduce fertiliser use, reduce nitrogen leaching, reduce greenhouse gases, and also save costs on farms. Fertigation does not require the use of a vehicle to place granular fertiliser, thus reducing vehicle emissions.

However, very little research has been carried out on pastural application. Research has not been undertaken in New Zealand to verify that fertigation creates better environmental outcomes. This research trial is being undertaken to assess if fertigation can reduce nitrogen leaching and reduce costs on farms.

The research will involve a literature review to find what knowledge has been developed internationally, experiments at Lincoln University, and field trials at Pamu farms, initially in north Canterbury. It will also identify future research and trial work that can appropriately be applied to continue developing fertigation techniques for New Zealand use.

Several partners including, Balance Agri-nutrients, Pamu Farms, Fertigation Systems, Malloy Agriculture, and Landcare Research are supporting the experiments and trials. The research will assess the changes on nitrogen leaching, productivity, and costs and benefits of implementing the practice over two irrigation seasons in 2019/2020 and 2020/21.

A number of deliverables will come from the project, including a system design, installation, and management guide for the effective adoption of fertigation. A series of fertigation workshops will be held once the results of the research are known to upskill irrigators and those in the irrigation industry.

Irrigation New Zealand is excited about the potential benefits to irrigators, farmers, productivity, and the environment to come from this research.

As we move into a new regulatory landscape, having tools such as fertigation to assist in managing to new limits will be critical in providing flexibility to farmers to continue to be highly productive and sustainable. We will provide regular updates on the research as it progresses. 

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