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October 12, 2010 Change in fertiliser policy as farmers deal with drought and price increases

More farmers are turning to dicalcic phosphate as the cost of traditional fertiliser is set to increase in June. Hatuma Lime company director, Aaron Topp, says strong sales over the last six months are partly due to the sharp increase in the cost of superphosphate.

“We’ve also been through a very tough drought in many areas which has stunted farm production, so farmers are opting to tighten their budgets and look for alternative forms of topdressing to see them through,” Mr Topp said.

Fertiliser prices are driven by global demand for fertiliser, particularly from China and India, and the growing thirst for bio-fuel, which requires much more fertiliser than pasture.

In the past 18 months, sulphur prices climbed steeply. Rock phosphate prices have soared 300% to $US200 per tonne while the price of other fertiliser ingredients has also soared.

Compounding the problem is that climate experts are predicting droughts on the east coast of New Zealand to become more frequent.

But Mr Topp believes farmers using dicalcic phosphate and light applications of lime are in a better position to cope with extreme weather conditions similar to what has struck many parts of New Zealand this year.

Hatuma’s new Field Team Manager, Andrew Forsyth, says feedback from farmers is that many are eager to re-assess their topdressing options for the next twelve months.

“Most farmers who I’ve spoken to are looking for a cost-effective product that will provide them with some phosphate as well as the basis for an ongoing liming programme.

“I’ve also talked to many farmers in the drought-hit areas who have stated they have fared better with clover and stock conditioning due to previously applying this practice. Their properties are already showing the signs of excellent recovery.”

Hatuma Lime began a soil monitoring programme in 2006 and is showing a remarkable consistency of findings from a wide range of farms throughout the North Island.

The programme evaluates the effects of long-term annual applications of dicalcic phosphate and light lime applications on a range of soil properties.

All the farms showed extremely good soil structure, good drainage, high organic matter and extremely high earthworm counts.

More droughts means farmers will need to conserve water and Hatuma are recommending to safeguard the farm by applying light applications of lime and dicalcic phosphate to improve the moisture holding capacity in the soil.

“For decades farmers have been acutely aware that annual liming and dicalcic phosphate aids in the soil’s ability to store moisture more effectively, while enhancing autumn and winter growth. This is hugely beneficial to them in times of drought as the soil and pasture are able to ‘hold on’ longer and recover quicker,” he says.

As part of the government’s recommendations to repair drought-damaged pasture, hill country farmers are being advised to consider over-sowing clover seed in spring.

“This has been implemented very successfully in the past by farmers opting to blend their uncoated seed with a seed-friendly fertiliser such as dicalcic phosphate, and they simply have it applied with their topdressing,” he says.

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