What is the nitrogen cap?
Since July 2021, all farms over 20 hectares with any grazed land, must comply with the nitrogen cap regulation. It states that no more than 190 kilograms of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser per hectare may be applied per year to:
- any individual hectare of pasture
- 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.
What farms does it apply to?
Most farming operations will not be affected by the nitrogen cap but some higher users of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on grazed pasture will be.
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
- duration of the grazing – whether it is for a few days or the whole year.
The nitrogen cap does not apply to non-grazed arable land or horticultural crops.
If you can't meet this cap, you're required to apply for a resource consent.
Nitrogen cap reporting requirements
Councils have worked with Ballance and Ravensdown on a straight-forward and consistent method for collecting the required data.
We’ve come up with 3 nitrogen use reporting tools that you can choose from to record your synthetic nitrogen use on grazed land in the 12-month period from 1 July to 30 June in the following year. The tools are:
Note, the rules require this reporting to be complete by 31 July 2022, however we can confirm that there will be no action taken for late submission this year as we're encouraging farmers to wait until these new national systems are available.
We will contact you later in the year if we haven't received your data.
HawkEye and MyBallance are existing tools which have had functionality added to allow data inputs to be used for calculating the synthetic nitrogen use by farm land-use area.
When given permission by the person inputting the data it's submitted securely to the appropriate council.
The regional sector web portal (N-Cap) is a recording system that requires manual calculation of the same information.
A calculation spreadsheet is available for download which guides you through how to create the required records – this includes information such as the farm business entity, fertiliser purchases, landholding, land use along with dates, volume, and types of synthetic nitrogen application.
This information is entered into a form in the web portal and just like the fertiliser company apps, data is then submitted securely to the appropriate councils.
Over time, other companies may come on board with their own apps to perform the same functions required by the new rules in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater Management.
If you have any questions, please contact your council. If you have problems entering your data after 29 August, please check the support information on the fertiliser company app or the N-Cap website.
You will be able to submit your records through these tools from 29 August 2022.
Questions and answers
Follow the flow chart to see if the nitrogen cap applies to you.
Note the cap does not apply to nitrogen fertiliser applied to maize silage, other ungrazed crops or pasture ungrazed during the shut-up period and then used for silage.
For more information - Ministry for the Environment website
The requirement to report applies only to farms, of 20 hectares or greater, on which dairy cows are grazed and to non-complying activity consent holders. This does not include dairy support.
A non-complying activity consent must be sought from us if you calculate that you will exceed the nitrogen cap.
All dairy farmers are required to report because the dairy sector is thought to be the most intensive user of synthetic nitrogen.
We will contact our dairy farmers personally to ensure reporting is complete.
How is the nitrogen cap calculated?
The caps weight limit applies only to the nitrogen part of the fertiliser, not to the fertiliser in its entirety.
For example, applying 50 kg/ha of Urea as a product is applying 23kg of nitrogen, as Urea is 46% Nitrogen content.
Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser for the purpose of this nitrogen cap regulation means any substance, whether solid or liquid, that is more than 5% nitrogen by weight, and is applied to land as a source of nitrogen nutrition for plants.
- This includes for example, manufactured urea, diammonium phosphate, or sulphate of ammonia.
Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser does not include a compost, soil treatment or fertiliser that's derived from plant or animal waste or residue, and is minimally processed (for example, being composted, mixed, dried, and pelleted). The nitrogen cap does not include farm dairy effluent.
The nitrogen cap synthetic nitrogen fertiliser application to land limit apples to all areas where ground-rooted vegetation is grazed by livestock. Within a contiguous land holding, there may be multiple different vegetation types grazed and different nitrogen cap limits apply to these pastoral land uses.
For more information about N-cap - go to environment.govt.nz
We expect most farmers already track their nitrogen use, and that all but the most intensive farms are unlikely to exceed the nitrogen cap.
If you think you may exceed it, you'll need to apply for a ‘non-complying’ activity resource consent.
There are 2 types: a ‘phased reduction’ and a ‘good practice consent’.
These options are not provided to maintain business as usual for high nitrogen use but to make nitrogen reductions more manageable where immediate compliance is not possible.
Phased reduction consent - Valid until July 2023, you must be able to demonstrate that you will follow a plan to get your synthetic nitrogen use down to the cap level by the time your consent expires.
Good practice consent- Valid for up to 5 years, you would need to be able to demonstrate practices (as described in an experts report that you must provide) to limit nitrate loss to what it would have been if 190 kilograms/hectare/year were applied using good practice.
If you expect that you need to exceed the cap, please contact us.
Using too much can be bad for business – Good nutrient management has always been an important part of farming best practice as this will keep nutrients cycling within the farm system and reduce losses to the environment to the bare minimum.
Over fertilising, especially on saturated soils during winter, creates high risk of valuable nutrients being washed out through the soil and lost from farm systems. The more you use, the greater the risk becomes.
Using too much is bad for the environment – nitrogen leaching from pastoral farming land contributes to the decline in water quality.
We support the Governments commitment to halt and reverse this decline. Everyone wants safe freshwater for swimming and food gathering, and to continue to be able to meet the needs of our communities and economy.
Climate change is also having increasingly sever impacts on our daily lives, and particularly on the farming sector, through the increasing frequency of droughts and flooding. Nitrous oxide, a by product of nitrogen fertiliser, is also a potent greenhouse gas that is contributing to these changes.
Why are the tools not available until 29 August?
By working together, the regional sector and the fertiliser industry has ensured that ther is a consistent approach to data calculation and submission across the tree tools- developed to date. While the intent was to have this system ready for 31 July, developing these tools has taken longer than expected and it is important that we are confident that they will operate as intended when farmers begin to use them.
What happens after 31 July as that is the date the information is supposed to be submitted?
No action relating to the submission of data will be taken by regional or unitary councils in the period after 13 July until the end of October 2022.
We know that many farmers will be keen to submit their data to ensure compliance with the rules, however we are asking people to wait until the new national reporting systems are available. Later in the year you may be contacted by your regional council if you have not yet provided your data.
What are my options if I don’t want to/can’t use an online tool for recording?
A calculation spreadsheet can be used to record nitrogen use and is available from your council. If a farm owner wishes to, they can provide information directly to their council using this manual form however this approach is not encouraged.
We're aware that many farmers already supply some fertiliser data to their dairying company.
The new regulations require different data than what is currently provided.
The development of the new tools by the Regional Sector and fertiliser industry has been carried out to meet those different requirements and provide a consistent way for farmers to submit data to their regional or unitary council.