Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser rules

The National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F) introduced new rules for synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use. There are two main parts to the regulation that farmers need to consider: the nitrogen cap and nitrogen reporting requirements.

Nitrogen cap

Since 1 July 2021, all farms in the Horizons Region over 20 hectares with any grazed land must comply with the nitrogen cap regulation which states that no more than 190 kilograms of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser per hectare may be applied per year to:

  • Any individual hectare of pasture; or
  • The pastoral land use as a whole (this is, the combined area of pasture, forage crops, and other grazed pastoral land use) when averaged across that area.
Any synthetic nitrogen applied to land used to grow pasture or other grazed vegetation is covered by the nitrogen cap regardless of the:
  • Type of vegetation grazed – whether pasture or crops;
  • Type of grazing animal – whether cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, deer, poultry, or other animals; and
  • Duration of the grazing – whether it is for a few days or the whole year.
This flow chart from Dairy NZ will help determine if/how your farm fits within these rules. The nitrogen cap does not apply to non-grazed arable land or horticultural crops.
If you exceed the 190kg/ha/year nitrogen cap you are required to apply for a resource consent so please get in touch with our rural advice team on 0508 800 800.

Nitrogen reporting requirements

It is a requirement for all dairy farmers to report their annual synthetic nitrogen fertiliser usage, even if they apply less than the 190 kg/ha/year cap. This includes those that apply 0 kg/ha/year. 
The annual reporting period is from July to June. For example, the first reporting round took in 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022. Dairy farmers have until 31 July each year to submit their reporting. 

The information regional councils require include:

  • The areas of each contiguous land holding;
  • The areas of pasture and cropped land that receives synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and which areas are grazed or not; and
  • The amounts of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser applied, the area in hectares that it is applied to and the dates of each application, down to paddock scale.

​Please note that this reporting applies to all contiguous dairy land – this is the milking platform and any other land directly connected to it. For further explanation on this definition please see here

Reporting tools
Regional and unitary councils have worked with Ravensdown and Ballance on a straightforward and consistent method for collecting the required data. We’ve come up with three nitrogen use reporting tools that you can choose from to record your synthetic nitrogen use on grazed land in the twelve-month period from 1 July to 30 June in the following year. The three tools of choice are:


You only need to use one of the tools for your reporting. If you use the Regional Sector's web portal, watch the video playlist below for a step-by-step guide on how to record and report your synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use. 

Do I need to provide fertiliser receipts when I submit my nitrogen application information? 
The Ministry for the Environment guidance on synthetic nitrogen recording provides a section on what dairy farmers must report to the regional council.  It states that farmers must provide “records of all synthetic nitrogen fertiliser purchased during the year”. 
In the MyBallance and Ravensdown’s HawkEye systems these date, type and quantity details will be automatically populated for your N-Cap record. In the Regional Sector N-Cap portal farmers will need to enter the purchase record in fill-in boxes to capture the fertiliser supplier name, purchase date, product name and quantity purchased.
None of the three systems requires farmers to provide the physical receipts for their purchases. This approach was adopted by the collaborative work between the regional sector and fertiliser companies. The agreed method provides more useful and consistent summary information on purchase than would have been possible through the provision of receipts.

Nitrogen reporting FAQs