Get the most from your nitrogen

Are you getting the most from your farm's nitrogen?

Each year, most dairy farmers will receive a farm nitrogen report from their dairy company. The report provides information on your nitrogen conversion efficiency and your nitrogen leaching risk, calculated from information you have supplied.

The numbers in the nitrogen report reflect what's happening on your farm, and show us where changes could result in improvements. So it's well worth taking the time to understand a bit more about them. To get you started, we've answered some frequently asked questions, below. 

You can also download a copy of our workbook to help you set your nitrogen management goals.

Where do the numbers come from?

Your farm nitrogen report is based on the data you provide to your dairy company each year. This includes information such as nitrogen fertiliser use, supplements grown, purchased and fed, irrigation, effluent management, wintering pads, feed pads, etc.

Specialists analyse this data using Overseer, to produce your nitrogen leaching risk and nitrogen conversion efficiency, and to benchmark your farm against others in your region. (Some dairy companies also provide a nitrogen surplus figure).

The more accurate this data, the more reliable your number will be. Learn more about the importance of accurate data in this short video, featuring Ian Power, Ballance Environmental Management Specialist...

What is nitrogen leaching risk?

All farm systems will leach nitrogen to some degree. It occurs because soil bacteria convert nitrogen to nitrate, which is a form that mainly stays in the soil water. As a result, when it rains and soil water moves down through the root zone, any excess nitrate moves too. This is the process known as nitrate leaching. 

Your farm's nitrogen leaching risk number is presented in your nitrogen report in kg/ha/year. This number is the estimated amount of nitrogen with the potential to be lost from the farming system into either the groundwater or into waterways. A small number indicates a lower risk of nitrogen loss.

The diagram (left) outlines some of the common sources of on-farm nitrogen leaching. 

What is nitrogen conversion efficiency?

This is the percentage of nitrogen that is brought into the farming system (in fertiliser, supplementary feed and by fixation) that is converted to products (milk and meat).

The higher the percentage, the more efficient the farm is at using its nitrogen sources.
Note: Nitrogen conversion efficiency may also be referred to as nitrogen-use efficiency.
What numbers should I be aiming for?
There are no magic target numbers. The goal is to get the nitrogen leaching number as low as possible for your farm. The exact numbers will depend on your individual farming system. Treat your numbers as a long-term project and work towards improvements year on year.  
How can I improve my nitrogen leaching risk and conversion efficiency?
The opportunity to improve your numbers will vary depending on your farm system and your farming goals. There are, however, five universal factors that influence how much nitrate will be lost by leaching on any given dairy farm. We've outlined some of the common strategies for reducing nitrate leaching in our resource workbook and the video's on this page. 

We recommend you seek specific advice before making any changes to your farm system. 

Please contact your local Ballance Nutrient Specialist on 0800 222 090.

Farm nitrogen workbook

Click here to download your guide to improving nitrogen-use efficiency on your farm.