The Business of Dairy

Managing High Fertiliser Prices

December 01, 2021 NSW DPI Season 1 Episode 7
The Business of Dairy
Managing High Fertiliser Prices
Show Notes Transcript

Nitrogen fertiliser is a key input for pasture and fodder production in dairy businesses. In the last eight months we have seen urea prices increase on farm by around 80%. Is it too costly to keep applying with urea prices over $1000 per tonne? 

This month we are joined by Neil Moss, director and Senior Consultant with Scibus who consults to dairy and beef producers in NSW and interstate. We touch on some of the factors affecting pricing and availability of fertiliser and look at how the numbers stack up for applying urea to your pastures and maize crops. We also talk about some alternative sources of nutrients and provide some food for thought on future nitrogen use and pasture species to be considered on farm.

Useful resources related to this podcast:

Podcast - RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness – Buy Nitrogen Now or Wait? A Global View for those that are keen to understand more on drivers of the drivers behind the current fertiliser supply and demand situation.

Dairy Australia’s Fert$mart Nitrogen Pocket Guide

Fertiliser for Pastures 2021 (Local Land Services publication) containing nutrient analysis of synthetic and organic material such as poultry litter, dairy effluent and dairy manure.

The dairy business Report – Tocal Dairy

This podcast is an initiative of the NSW DPI Dairy Business Advisory Unit

It is brought to you in partnership the Hunter Local Land Services

Please share this podcast with your fellow farmers and colleagues and feel free to contact us with suggestions or comments via this email address thebusinessofdairy@gmail.com

Further NSW DPI Dairy channels to follow and subscribe to include;

NSW DPI Dairy Facebook page

DPI Intensive Livestock Twitter feed

NSW DPI Dairy Newsletter

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Produced by Video Lift

The information discussed in this podcast are for informative and educational purposes only and do not constitute advice. 


The Business of Dairy


Episode #7 Transcript – “Managing High Fertiliser Prices”

 

Sheena Carter: Welcome to the Business of Dairy podcast. I'm your host, Sheena Carter, development officer with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries dairy team. Each month, I speak with industry people generous enough to share their stories, knowledge and skills with us to help you in the increasingly complex area of farm business management. Nitrogen fertiliser is a key input for pasture and fodder production in dairy businesses. In the last eight months, we have seen urea prices increase on farm by around 80 per cent. Is it too costly to keep applying with urea prices currently over $1000 a tonne? This month we are joined by Neil Moss, director and senior consultant with Scibus, who consults to dairy and beef producers in New South Wales and interstate. We touch on some of the factors affecting pricing and availability of fertiliser and look at how the numbers stack up for applying urea to your pastures and maize crops. We also talk about some alternative sources of nutrients and provide some food for thought on future nitrogen use and pasture species to be considered on farm. Welcome, Neil. It's fantastic to have you on the Business of Dairy podcast. You're a well-known consultant, certainly within New South Wales and further beyond, so it's a pleasure to have you on the session today. 

 

Neil Moss: Lovely to be here, Sheena, and thank you for the opportunity. 

 

Sheena Carter: Pleasure. Look, we're going to talk about nitrogen issues, sort of pricing and supply issues today, but we've come through some very challenging years in the last three years, the drought that we've seen, and fortunately, we're in a position where we're getting some really good seasonal conditions. We've had mild summers and great rain and moisture, which is the best we've seen in many years. We've also got strong milk prices in New South Wales and good, sort of, livestock sales prices as well. So there's great opportunities in dairying at the moment and lots of silage being made around the country as well. But there's always a curveball in agriculture and at the moment it's fertiliser prices. But before we get into too much detail about that, can you just tell me you're out on the road quite a bit visiting clients and farmers? What are you seeing around the country in terms of pasture and fodder production at the moment? 

 

Neil Moss: Thanks Sheena. Look, it really is a rare alignment of the planets at the moment and in a positive direction with many of the things that aren't very favourable in the production environment. And we are seeing, I guess, an extraordinary season. I mean, I've been from, sort of, Victoria up to the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales and into western New South Wales in the last month. And COVID has let us travel a bit more widely. And really, we're just seeing extraordinary conditions that are very welcoming. And it's not just the spring. These have been carrying on with a bit of depth from autumn onwards. And I think we've got to keep it in perspective. The one good year doesn't make a complete recovery, but I guess we've got much better trading conditions on farm. Our trading sheets are looking very, very good. I guess we're still seeing some real hangovers though with some aged payables on a lot of farms that are coming out of periods of drought. We can't underestimate the impact of some of our other disasters which have been impacting in recent years, including floods and fires. You know, there is a significant hangover that a lot of farms are operating in, that I guess the seasonal conditions we're seeing this year are really allowing people to make headway and those that navigated some of those worst times in the past well are actually doing exceptionally well now. So pasture conditions, outstanding. I guess the challenges we face actually now, there's been a combination of cash, because with great seasons, you know, we often think that they're a low cost production environment, they can actually become a very high cost production environment because we start bearing a lot of money in inventory. And I guess that's been accentuated a little bit for some of the fertiliser issues that we might touch on later. So, yes, terrific. But I guess, quality and quantity are going to be two other things we might discuss a bit later as we go on as well because always a challenge that we have at this time is that we can accumulate vast amounts of forage with some of the harvest conditions which are problematic, as well as accessibility to the contractors in many areas. We're getting a lot of low quality stuff being put in pits as well as nutritionists we'll be faced with the questions in six months’ time, well how do I make milk out of this stuff? 

 

Sheena Carter: Yes, that's the perennial challenge isn't it? You've got the feed on hand, but sometimes you can have too much and then you do lose that quality. And you know, we're looking at a week ahead in New South Wales of potentially more coastal rain. And so, you know, pasture losing that quality if it can't be got off in time. Any other challenges apart from pasture quality that we might be seeing out there at the moment? 

 

Neil Moss: Look, I think things that we probably need to be mindful of is in the summer cropping environment, we're still getting our head around the impact in New South Wales with some of the pest pressures that we might face. The fall armyworm raised its head in northern areas and actually did significant damage down as far south as Nowra last year. So I guess there's a lot of people on alert for that. There's a bit of uncertainty in the grains and protein markets that we need to keep an eye on. I think we're going to have product available, but we'll still need to see how that actually comes off the header and where quality and price sits. And we also know that the protein market is going to be somewhat challenging as well the sheer high prices of canola. So again, it probably refocuses our need to be really focused on pasture forage quality as we move forward so we can reduce our exposure to things like vast amounts of protein meal in some of the diets. Animal health, I think again as we move down the coast, we're continuing to get annoyance from diseases like Theileria. But I think it's really important that people are aware this year, again, north moving south, the risk of things like three day sickness as we move into early next year, which, you know, we've had some reports earlier around the Kyogle and northern areas, so it’s certainly found its way into New South Wales. It's been a few years since we've had an outbreak so herd immunity will be on the lower side in those areas that are potentially exposed. So timely reminder to maybe update those vaccinations maybe. 

 

Sheena Carter: Yes, well and truly, and with wet conditions looking like prevailing, potentially something to really keep an eye on. 

 

Neil Moss: Absolutely. I guess and also combined with that is, you know, higher risk of mastitis and lameness and probably a good idea at the moment for people to be maybe looking through the herds of those high risk cows that are little bit swinging in the bag or sore in the feet long in the toe, because our cull prices are excellent at the moment. So there's some opportunity to take those high risk cows off the table maybe, as we move into summer and a wetter period again. 

 

Sheena Carter: Yes, the good old dairy industry, there's always many, many balls to juggle, opportunity and risk in all of them. But I think we'll try and focus now on our nitrogen and high fertiliser price issue that we're seeing. I was just looking at... I do a monthly Tocal Business Report, and one of the things that I look at is the cost of fertiliser. And I was just looking back. The cost of their fertilizer has gone up about 80 per cent since March last year. When they were paying around $630 a tonne for their urea, and now we're a bit over $1100 a tonne. So it's a dramatic increase in price. And the RaboResearch Group did a really good podcast recently, which I'll tag in the show notes if people are interested, but some of the key drivers that we're seeing affecting our price and supply in Australia, it's not just an Australian issue, it's a worldwide issue. And I guess one of our challenges is that as a country, we import over 90 per cent of our urea. So we are severely affected by this challenge and it's really that demand and supply issue on the international scene. We've got a, probably a shortage of natural gas. And for those that aren't aware when we were making urea, it's coming from natural gas. So that's driving up our urea and ammonium costs. Within China itself, they're doing a lot of the export of fertiliser around the world, urea and some of our phosphate fertilisers as well. And so they're acutely aware of the supply and demand issues and really prioritising a lot of this production for domestic use themselves, which is understandable. And then of course, there's the supply chain risks that we've got with ocean freight at the moment. So there's lots of challenges and things that are driving the pricing and supply issues that we're seeing. So, Neil, it is what it is. This is the, you know, the card that we've been dealt. What would you see as some of the strategies that farmers can think about in terms of nitrogen use, I guess, particularly if we talk about pastures first. 

What do we need to be thinking about and some of the numbers, perhaps, that we need to be crunching? 

 

Neil Moss: Look, it's a great question, Sheena. And I guess we started getting phone calls probably two or three months ago about people being concerned about nitrogen. And that was still when it was about $800 a tonne because we've been used to a very, relatively low-cost nitrogen environment. And I think, you know, we're well on track for this to hit $1300 to $1400 a tonne, if not higher as we move forward. So I guess we go through a bit of a process of just really reviewing, you know, what our equations look like with respect to nitrogen use efficiency at the agronomic level and then basically say, well what's it going to cost us if we're if we're paying $1500 a tonne for urea? 46% nitrogen, that's $3.26 per/kg for each bit of nitrogen that we get, and what sort of nitrogen use efficiency with respect to kilograms of dry matter grown per kilogram of nitrogen applied do we need? So to make that stand. And look, I guess the overwhelming message is that if you are operating your pasture or your agronomic system at a high level of nitrogen use efficiency, and I guess we can start defining that with these sort of numbers at probably, 20 kilograms of dry matter per kilogram of nitrogen applied, we're still producing high quality forage at 20 at $1500 level for about $165 a tonne dry matter. Now that's not as good as $80, but it's better than anything you're going to buy. So we relate that back to an alternative to good quality pasture, which is realistically high quality lucerne hay, you know, $350 a tonne or $400 a tonne dry matter, it still looks pretty good. So I guess it is really important to be objective. It's important to be focused then on what drives high nitrogen use efficiency with respect to agronomic features, but we also need to think a little bit over that agronomic use efficiency. So what are the factors in my farming system that allow me to, once I've grown that feed, to actually have high production efficiency from the feed that's grown so that that feed that cost me $165 or $185 a tonne dry matter to grow isn't wasted somehow in my process so the price effectively doubles. So that's the framework. 

 

So, what are the core strategies? I guess, Sheena, that is probably the question that we look at. I guess the first thing we really need to think about is are we watering the right plant at the right time of year? Okay, so that's probably number one. And is that plant in the ground at adequate density and population. But when the nitrogen's applied, by whatever method, that it can actually achieve those efficiencies. So I guess in the ryegrass space, and we're getting towards the end of our ryegrass season, certainly the people that have planted Italians and some of the late heading perennials, and there's a variation north of south of east of west with this, but we can still be getting extremely high nitrogen use efficiency even right now on those better performers and those late heading varieties of grass. So the corollary of that is that if you're ordering and fertilising Tetila that's going to head at the moment, you know, older ryegrasses of short heading dates, and nitrogen use efficiency is likely to be woeful. So right plant, right time. Similarly, as we move into summer, we know that a utilisation of nitrogen by kikuyu and some of our summer forage crops can be very efficient as well. So I guess, you know, being focused on growing that high quality feed, fertilising the right pastures at the right time, making sure that that's going on early in the growth cycle. Very, very important. You know, we want to get that nitrogen on that plant as close to the grazing, or after grazing, or just shortly before, as possible, so the plant's then got the maximum potential to take the nitrogen up and utilise it efficiently to grow more plant and more protein. Making sure we're managing the water side of things is really, really important. So for an irrigation environment, we don't want to be applying that to dry soils. And again, making sure the conditions are right with respect to growing conditions where possible to get the most out of it when we're applying it. You know, we don't necessarily be applying it in hot, dry conditions. Not that we have a lot of those at the moment. But the flipside, we need to be really mindful that if we're going to get major runoff events or leaching potential, that we should potentially be hanging back a little bit and just see what that East Coast low is going to do before we put that that nitrogen on. Not only is it wasteful, but you know, we get a lot of gaseous source of nitrous oxide in that situation, which is one of the things we might touch on later from an emissions perspective that we need to be really mindful of. 

 

I think one of the other real core things, is the rest of the soil healthy? Do you have the other ingredients in that soil that make the most out of the nitrogens being applied? So have we done recent soil tests? There's no better time than right now to be getting on top of your P, K, S, your pH, and some of your other nutrients and soil health parameters. Make sure that the other thing is there so it's not limiting the impact of what that nitrogen can really do to express itself. 

 

Sheena Carter: Yeah, and I guess we really need to emphasise that soil testing aspect. You know, there's no need to apply a lot of phosphorus to your soils if you've already got available phosphorus there. So it is it is very important. And particularly in these high fertiliser prices, you know, the cost of the soil test is certainly going to pay for itself. 

 

Neil Moss: Absolutely, Sheena. And we look at phosphorus costs potentially heading toward $6 to $8 a kilogram. You know, the normal paddock phosphorus on a high production farm requirement might be 30 kilos a year for P. If we don't need that, you know, it's extraordinarily financially beneficial, but also environmentally responsible that we're not dumping that nutrient on when it's not required. Then we need to be sure that the phosphorus is available, not just present, you know, doing the right tests, making sure our pH's are in the right space, you know, we've got good conditions with aeration. They're all important, too. 

 

Sheena Carter: Yeah, sure. And I guess similarly, with our potash, potassium as well, you know, if you've been harvesting those paddocks with hay, silage particularly, monitoring those levels as well. 

 

Neil Moss: No, no. Look, we see potassium drain as one of the real major issues that we face, particularly as we probably move to systems which are a little bit more intensive, might have off-blocks where they're bringing a lot of feed off them and continually harvesting those or more distant parts of the farm. You know, the classic paddocks that are further away in spring are the ones that always get cut for silage as it gets a bit hotter, the potassium mining on those is extraordinary over time. You know, we take off a three tonne of cut of grass silage at 2.5% dry matter potassium, there's 75 kilograms of elemental potassium that leaves that paddock every time you do it. So the corollary of that again, is if a lot of that potassium goes straight through the cow, particularly in urine, and if that's being efficiently deposited back on paddocks near the dairy or manures or accumulating close to home, we may not need to use potassium there. You know, that zonal mapping of farms – absolutely crucial and really allows us to focus where the nutrient needs to go. 

 

Sheena Carter: Very important. If we're looking at applying nitrogen to our pastures, even at these high prices with the comparative cost of purchased feed, we're saying that there is still opportunity there if you're getting the response rates from your pastures and utilising that. There is still money in purchasing that urea fertiliser and applying it on farm. 

 

Neil Moss: Absolutely, Sheena. And you hit the two key needs: applying it and getting efficiency from the plant; growing it and utilising what you grow efficiently. And the two have to be partnered. And you know, I think it's not as rosy a story as it was, but it's still a reasonable story. And you've always got to ask, well, what's the alternative here? You know, ryegrass or good quality pasture is not cereal hay. And cereal hay is not ryegrass pasture. Particularly this year, where we talk about some of our challenges. 

 

If we look at hay and hay harvest, it's going to be pretty hard to find high quality hays that actually replicate grazing. You know, we get those hays, fantastic quantities when we have drought unfortunately, because they're cut early when they're vegetated. The hays this year are likely to be a little bit ropier and a bit harder on the rumen.

 

Sheena Carter: Yes, it's much easier to potentially control the quality at your end rather than relying on someone else to do that for you. Look, I guess let's move into now some of the summer forage crops that will be going in, or have been sown recently. Particularly we're going to have maize silage crops, perhaps forage sorghums and others. Maize, particularly is going to be quite a... It's a hungry plant for nitrogen, but it generates great dry matter production from that. For those that have gone down that path this season, what's your advice to them in terms of nitrogen? 

 

Neil Moss: Don't skimp. You know, if you're going to bother doing it, put it on. We still, you know, when we're applying 300 kilograms of N to hopefully a 25 to 28 tonne crop, we're still only talking about 12 kilograms of nitrogen exposure per tonne of dry matter. So it's not a huge proportion of that cost when we really look at it. And if you pull back on nitrogen because you're worried about cost, you're going to pull back on yield, which actually makes the comparative components more the costs that go into the maize process much higher. I guess there's opportunities though again, to understand your soil tests, maybe look at your areas that are high fertility that might have accumulated the soil nutrients, as you know, the sacrifice paddocks, those feed-out areas, those old night paddocks if you're growing maize. And again thinking carefully about the role of both your own effluent and stockpiles of manure and potentially other purchase sources of manure like poultry if available, and how they can potentially contribute a total nutrient budget when putting together a maize crop. So similarly, I guess if growing sorghum, and I guess it's a big if this year because I guess we're having a few people maybe look at some other alternatives to maybe growing those crops. 

 

Then again, very efficient uses of nitrogen and water but I guess our advice is it will only grow enough probably this year for grazing rather than thinking about having lots of it for conservation. Now, that may vary in some systems, so that's a very generic comment. But be cautious if you're going to grow a lot of it because there is some fertiliser exposure. But again, the last thing we need to have when we've already accumulated reasonable banks at forage, is big piles of low-quality forage sorghum that's been cut too late because we couldn't get on the paddock or the contractors couldn't make it, and saying well, I've got 400 tonne dry matter of stuff that's 65% NDF, what I do with it? So put it in but do it well and keep it pretty tight. So that's I guess, the sorghum story. I think we've still got people exploring where forage legumes fit in this year. We've got more clients looking at things like soy as a silage crop, and again, lower yielding but potentially it's a much lower nitrogen exposure in those crops and potential, if it's done well, when appropriate inoculation and fertility conditions to actually fix the nitrogen for our following crops. And similar with some of the more grazing type summer legumes like cowpeas. Certainly things that can be considered this year as well, for both grazing and conservation, again because they're low in nitrogen requirements. But again, they've got different grazing management around those. Sometimes they're only a bit of a one hit wonder. You know, you get one good grazing at 10 to 12 weeks takes you a bit longer to get there, but it can still be valuable. 

 

Sheena Carter: While we're talking about these legumes, the importance of making sure we've got them inoculated with those ryzobia? 

 

Neil Moss: Absolutely. It's tempting to go rip, tear, bust and get it in the ground. Okay, but we know that most of the soils that don't grow those crops regularly, it's unlikely that the necessary microorganisms that fix the nitrogen aren't present in the first place. So generally, certainly with soy, we need to do that inoculation fresh, and it will have a huge impact on providing nitrogen for both the soy plant as it grows, but also potential for carry-over nitrogen into the subsequent cropping or annual pasture cycle that may follow. 

 

A couple of other quick things. I guess, in some situations we're just not looking at summer cropping at all. We're probably going to push our Italian ryegrass season out a little longer and in a soft season like this there will be farms where there's opportunities to take that up to Christmas at least. And then really, we've only got six to seven weeks until we can start looking at new winter foragers and bringing that sowing forward a little bit. And again, in years where we may have a fair bit of fodder and some of that fodder for pasture resource may carry nicely over summer. I guess being a little bit more mellow about not doing the summer cropping is something that some people can seriously look at within their own parameters. 

 

Sheena Carter: Yeah, that's a good point. That's a good point. They've probably got enough fodder on hand to easily fill that feed gap. 

 

Neil Moss: Absolutely. And look, this is the year where the farmers that have chosen, for whatever reason, to invest in some of the higher priced later heading cultivars, they really do express their benefits in years like this. Not every year, but this is certainly a year where, you know, the benefit of something that goes to head three or four weeks later is profound, if you want to push that out. I mean, we've quite successfully taken Italian ryegrass, under bit of irrigation in areas like Dubbo, out till Christmas. We're planting again on the 20th of February, so a little bit of fallow and we've got some good silage to feed over summer. It can be easier sometimes not to get too hung up with the cropping. 

 

Sheena Carter: Yes, it is a good opportunity isn't it? And it's nice to see some things lining up like that. Now we've just spoken briefly about some of our alternative nitrogen sources, fertilisers such as, you know, our own effluent on farm and chicken litter as well. Obviously, there's management issues around those, and also what would you say around testing for nutrient quality in those? It's a bit of an unknown. 

 

Neil Moss: It is a bit of an unknown. We've got reasonable book values that are indicative that we can pull, there's some DPI fact sheets on those sorts of things available, Sheena. They can be tested, and I guess there is value in getting manures and even liquid phase periodically tested, just so we can have a better understanding of what we are putting on. But it is a dynamic environment. I mean, we look at liquid effluent, for example. You know, if you've just cleaned out a pond recently, and the effluent in there is going to have a very different nutrient profile to a pond that has been continually topped up with recycled flood wash over a 6 month or 12 month period. So it is pretty dynamic and very hard to look at that. The solids I think we can use our book values or be prepared to do some testing through the department as well. 

 

Sheena Carter: I'll put a link in our show notes to some of those resources if people are keen to look into that as well. Okay now, you know, we've been talking about the, sort of, short term and medium term into summer about management of pastures and crops. But potentially, I guess this supply and pricing issue could extend even further than what we're thinking. And perhaps worst case scenario, but perhaps not unrealistic, they're certainly, sort of, saying into the first quarter of next year, we're definitely going to be seeing these high prices and supply challenges continue. If we want to be a bit proactive and plan ahead for the, you know, come through autumn and winter into next year. And then we're planning ahead for our following summer crops. What are we thinking if we've still got high, high prices and supply challenges? 

 

Neil Moss: Great question, Sheena. And I guess one of the things I think we have to wrap our head around as we move forward is, you know, I think we're realistically looking at an environment where nitrogen pricing is going to be increasingly volatile and we're going to have people from outside of industry looking into industry and saying, well, you know, are we using it responsibly? And there'll be increased scrutiny of that, and potential if we follow the pathway of some of our overseas dairy cousins such as New Zealand or Europe for some regulation in that space? You know, we're always a little bit less regulated in Australia, but I don't think we can pretend that that's going to carry on in that space forever. 

 

So I guess, you know, there's opportunities really now for us to really get ahead, particularly when we've got some other things working very favourably in our environment, to maybe get ahead around operating and some systems that may let us perform better in a low nitrogen, particularly lower synthetic nitrogen, environment. So I guess again, we come back to the manures and the better use of effluent, and I think that's a really important thing for us to be considering and focusing on and building more information on. You know, going back and again, fully understanding your soil profiles. So when we go back to use nitrogen, we use it as efficiently as possible. I guess in a more short to medium term situation, we're starting to talk to our clients about increased use of annual legumes in some of their autumn winter spring pastures for next year. You know, we've had some really exciting results this year with higher infusions in areas that are non-traditional. I mean, it's been going on for years in the Riverina. You know, high inclusions of Shaftal in the sub-clovers. But I think moving that into some other areas, you know, we've had some tremendous shaftal on ryegrass pastures in the Illawarra. We've seen others creeping up to areas of the Hunter and I think may be looking at shifting that pasture mix from being highly nitrogen dependent and ryegrass focused, to having a bit of variety in there which potentially can have some nutritional benefits as well, with higher quality pastures later in the season in particular. You know, an increased use of these legumes, potentially to fix nitrogen, or have a lower nitrogen requirement, I think is going to be something we really should be focused on. I guess there's some other real significant macro issues that we need to think about as well, Sheena, and I guess we've talked a lot about agronomic efficiency of nitrogen. I think we need to be looking at whole farm systems and the efficiency of nitrogen use. And it's been, you know, I've been lucky to be involved in some Fertcare training at the moment where we're looking at some of these issues across the whole farm system. We can have the best nitrogen use efficiency at plant level, but if it's taking us three years to grow heifers into the herd or we've got low production environments with low feed conversion efficiency. You know, our actual nitrogen use and converting it to product can be very, very poor. So we've got to think about that second step. So, you know, there's those issues are around lifetime feed conversion efficiency, but people need to start focusing on getting better use out of nitrogen they apply, not just at the plant level, but at the animal level. Similarly, you know, it really starts asking some structural issues around farm and farm design as we move forward. We're not for a minute suggesting that all cows need to be in a barn, okay, but even in our pasture based systems, thinking about things like track design and water points and things that move cows from the paddock to the shed much quicker. Having dairies that are of adequate scale that all the manure isn't deposited in the yard. Having good quality tracks, so you know, the cows take 20 minutes to get to the dairy not an hour-and-a-half. Having water in the paddock, so the cows don't all leave the paddock at 10 am and go and sit under a tree in the water in the common zone in the middle of the day and do 70 per cent of their urine and manure in these hyper fertile common areas. These are all really important issues that will feed into high total farm nitrogen use efficiency over time. So it's not just the plant, it's the system, it's the nutrition and some of these efficiency issues that we really need to get ahead around as we move forward to improve total farm nitrogen use efficiency, not just plant nitrogen use efficiency. 

 

Sheena Carter: Yes, and I guess, you know, it's distribution of that nutrient load effectively around the whole farm, not having it all land on the laneway or on the dairy pad, as you say. Yeah, I think there's other gains, you know, apart from just the distribution of nitrogen as well in terms of herd efficiency and all those things, it's a cumulative benefit. 

 

Neil Moss: It's a win win, Sheena. And you know, we look at... there's multiple bottom lines here. And I always think the best way to talk about environmental improvement is to look at the multiple bottom lines. You know, we'll have better cow flow, we'll have reduced labour, you've got better productivity, we've got better nutrient redistribution, and at the same time, we're avoiding some of those environmental risks. But again, we're going to be under increasing scrutiny with respect to accumulating large amounts of nutrients in places where it can just be washed into waterways. 

 

Sheena Carter: That's right, and I guess, you know, essentially we're talking about capital investment on farm, which some people might baulk at, but at the end of the day, it'll drive operational efficiency and consequently lower operational costs. Look, it's been a great opportunity to talk to you about what you're seeing out there around the state and talking strategies around nutrient management, nitrogen and phosphorus and potassium on farms, as well as, sort of, agronomic planning for the short, medium and long term. So it's been a great discussion. Have you got just a few key points that you'd like to finish off with that people might need to think about? 

 

Neil Moss: Yeah look, I think this is a taste of things to come, so we have to get used to it. You know, we'll have better nitrogen pricing environments but the oscillation in this nitrogen challenge will be continuous. So we need to look at the economics of it initially and say, well okay, we need to understand the numbers a little bit better. Make sure we're using it and we're using it efficiently. We need to then really think about is our system utilising its feed efficiently? Because the nitrogen is a driver of the feed. You know, we lose a lot of feed and a lot of nitrogen in maintaining unproductive stock or low production stocks. So they're real macro things to think about. I think systems are as important as how we use it, and you know, you said your capital is important. I guess, as people start moving through the R & M phase it's about looking at those things that they're doing, and we often see when we have better times, some money can go back into repairs and maintenance. You know, look at those things that we talked about like water and laneways and, I guess, repair for the future, not just for now. Try and do it once and do it right, but think about what the farm's going to look like in 5 or 10 or 15 years time, not what it looks like last year. 

I think, you know, get on top of your soil testing, understand your farm and your nutrient base better, capture the wonderful things that come with effluent, and as we move into high nitrogen use pasture situations, don't be afraid to look at some of those technologies that might enhance its use. Things like gibberellic acid in winter, you know, some of the coatings that might slow the release of nitrogen, you know, go back and look at some of the data on that: Nitrotane and Intex and things that are potentially useful and make sure the other nutrients are considered as well. And don't forget the importance of legumes. I think, you know, we've got better information on what to do with some of these high performance, highly inter active annual legumes and seeing how they can fit in particularly annual cropping cycle, I think can be really useful. 

 

Sheena Carter: Fantastic. Thanks, Neil. There's always opportunity that every challenge presents, well, I should say every challenge presents opportunities. Ultimately, we've just got to discover what they are. Thank you very much for your time, Neil, today. It's been great to have your insight and hopefully we can get you back on for a future podcast. 

 

Neil Moss: It'd be a pleasure, Sheena. Always good to have a chat. 

 

Sheena Carter: Thanks, Neil. 

 

Neil Moss: Thank you. 

 

Sheena Carter: Thank you for listening to this month's The Business of Dairy podcast produced by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Dairy Business Advisory Unit. This series is also brought to you with funding and support from the Hunter Local Land Services. This month's show notes contain a transcript of the podcast and a link to the RaboResearch podcast, which talks about the drivers behind the current world fertiliser supply and demand situation. A link to Dairy Australia's excellent Fert$mart Nitrogen Pocket Guide, which helps calculate break even response rates and a link to Fertilisers for Pastures 2021, published by the Local Land Services, which provides indicative nutrient analysis details for dairy effluent, poultry litter and inorganic fertiliser sources, as well as a link to the monthly Tocal Dairy Business Report. 

 

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