Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser rules

Under the National Environmental Standards for synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use there are two main parts to the regulation that farmers need to consider.

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 synthetic nitrogen fertiliser usage, even if they apply less than the 190 kg/ha/year cap, from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022.
The first round of reporting is due to Regional Councils on the 31 July 2022. 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

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.
We understand many dairy farmers are working closely with their milk supply and fertiliser companies to track their nitrogen use - we suggest that for now farmers use one of the major fertiliser suppliers, such as Ravensdown or Ballance, to collate all the necessary information, check and submit to us. Central government (MfE and MPI), regional councils and industry are also working together to develop a central digital platform for nitrogen reporting which should be available for use this year. Once this platform is available we will provide a link to it here. 

Where can I find out more?

The Ministry for the Environment and industry websites have helpful information and guidance, see links below. If you have any additional questions, please call our rural advice team on 0508 800 800.

MfE - Nitrogen cap for guidance for dairy farms
MfE - Nitrogen cap guidance for livestock farms
MfE - Nitrogen cap guidance for arable cropping, forestry and horticulture
Ballance - Understanding the 190kg nitrogen fertiliser cap
Ravensdown - Nitrogen fertiliser regulations
Dairy NZ - Nitrogen cap rules