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Improving returns from fertiliser nitrogen applications in the High Rainfall Zone of Victoria

Improving returns from fertiliser nitrogen applications in the High Rainfall Zone of Victoria is the forefront of grower’s minds, whether it is high urea prices, or applications in dry or wet times.  

Growers who attended the Tatyoon GRDC NGN Forum in 2022 identified a need to better understand soil nitrogen (N) reserves and supplies, the efficiency of the uptake of N from fertiliser applications into the crop, and how to best optimise fertiliser decisions to maximise returns in the high rainfall zone (HRZ). Factors affecting fertiliser efficacy in the HRZ extend to waterlogging and loss pathways such as denitrification and leaching, further contributing to uncertainty around fertiliser decision making. Attendees at the NGN forum believed they are losing 20-50% of the urea applied and are keen to reduce N losses. 

Over 30 growers and agronomists on Wednesday 19th June joined Southern Farming Systems for a workshop held at Mininera, exploring nitrogen economics and diminishing returns with Vitor Pistoia an at Analyst Rabobank, James Hagan an Economist with the Queensland Department of Agriculture & Fisheries and local agronomist Craig Drum of Dagro Agronomy. 

Vitor set the scene with a quarterly update on the pricing of urea and the global market, and how it affects Australia’s pricing. 

James followed on with the economics and returns of nitrogen applications, highlighting that at increased costs of urea it could still be economically viable to pay up to $1350/t for urea. 

With the local perspective in mind Craig went through the different sources of nitrogen available and the different roles they play, including interactions with the soil and plant.  He touched on inhibitors and polymers in the emissions space and the importance of timings of applications. 

Following the workshop many participants mentioned they would consider changing the timing of their applications based on the information provided and they would also be inclined to do more soil testing. The whole system approach was also spoken about, and some said they would be more mindful of what is being put into the system, what is being taken out and what is left behind for the following season. 

This workshop is part of a series of four workshops that will be rolled out over the next 12 months. The project also includes small plot trials and focus paddock demonstrations exploring the fundamentals around improving returns from fertiliser nitrogen applications in the HRZ of Victoria funded by Grains Research and Development Corporation. 

The next workshop will be in August exploring soil and nitrogen interactions. Keep an eye out for the next invitation in the workshop series.

By Michelle McClure, SFS Communications & Engagement Coordinator

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