NEW ZEALAND'S FOOD PRODUCTION RELIES ON FERTILISER USEMonday, May 19, 2003
The importance of nutrient inputs in food production has been highlighted by two leading international organisations. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) last month released a statement emphasising the continued global need for fertiliser use. At a conference in Rome both organisations agreed fertilisers are vital to meeting global food needs.
New Zealand agriculture and horticulture relies on a good soil nutrient status to continue to meet local and international food production needs in the form of meat, milk, fruits, vegetables and other harvested crops. To continue to meet production demands, soil nutrient levels need to be maintained and their benefits maximised. Advocates of low input farming may not realise that lessened inputs create a problem that takes years to rectify.
Technical Director of Fert Research Dr Hilton Furness says the need to ensure nutrients are not mined and production is maintained in a sustainable way is vital to the long-term success of the local agricultural sector.
It is not so much about lessening inputs but about appropriately matching the needs of the plants; crops and pasture and the land to the use of nutrients. As the FAO/IFA conference recommended, farmers need to be assisted in getting maximum benefit from fertiliser through improved management practices that include all sources of nutrients and the use of innovative technologies.
Research results from a study into reducing nitrate leaching, presented in 2001, showed that decreased nitrogen fertiliser use did not significantly impact on vegetable production yields, specifically on winter potato crops. The research concluded that there was no yield advantage in application of larger amounts at the time of planting and that smaller total quantities of nitrogen successfully produced harvests of similar yield.
With an increase in horticultural and agricultural profitability the appropriate use of nutrients is increasingly important. Recent provisional agricultural census results show the importance of agriculture and horticulture to our national economy. For the year to June 2002, Lamb exports earned $2 billion, dairy products earned over $7 billion in export income and horticultural exports earned over $2 billion.
Without the input of fertiliser these figures would be significantly reduced. Continued promotion of best practices and sustainable agriculture by the New Zealand fertiliser industry will ensure this is achieved in a responsible way.
The industry is not advocating an increased use of fertiliser. Rather, it is important that people recognise its value and place in the food production process. The continued research investment and promotion of innovative nutrient management tools that the industry undertakes each year is key to this responsible nutrient management, by all responsible parties; farmers, growers, field staff, industry, farmer organisations, policy makers and government.