Research proposal to retain soluble Nitrogen in pasture soils

RESEARCH PROPOSAL TO RETAIN NITROGEN IN PASTURE SOILS – Use of No-tillage to apply biochar into pasture root zones

New Zealanders are waking up …  to the environmental costs & unintended consequences of intensive dairy farming practices, in particular intensively managed grazing by ever increasingly large herds of cows producing huge volumes of urine & manure.  Understandably, many dairy farmers are quick to react to ‘finger wagging’ gestures, name calling (“Dirty Dairying“), re eutrophication of surface waters, & nitrate contamination of groundwater / artesian drinking water supplies.

It’s easy to understand the anxiety & fears of concerned environmentalists who accuse farmers. Similarly, it’s equally easy to empathize with how hurtful & or unhelpful it may feel for farmers who believe that they are have been adopting many practical measures to work within legal & social restrictions, including planting trees & grasses on riparian zones, & using complex computer models of on-farm ‘nutrient budgets’, in order to remain economically & ecologically ‘sustainable’, … working within the environmental capacity of their soils & water resources to assimilate agricultural nutrient inputs (fertilizers) & animal excreta.

In context, there is a long history of persistent arguments between ‘rural’ (non-point source polluters), vs. ‘townie’ (point source polluters), often resulting in delayed practical actions over who is most to blame for the degraded water quality of our rivers, lakes & coasts. However, on a few rare occasions, riparian-focused land & water user groups, including both dairy farmers & environmentalists, have begun to work with, rather than against each other, by sharing a single common goal, i.e. protection of water quality, in order to enable people to enjoy swimming, fishing & boating, as well to provide drinking water for humans & livestock  Does this rare phenomena hint at the possibility of a future where our society may share a different ‘world view’ (i.e. a paradigm shift), where rivers & lakes are acknowledged or recognized as an ‘entity‘, …entitled to the same rights of environmental protection as those humans, livestock & fish who use or inhabit that water resource? Naa mate, ya must be dreaming!

The preliminary results of recent research into the capacity of biochar to adsorb nutrients, (including Nitrogen & Phosphates), is beginning to reach the attention of farmers who are actively looking for additional innovative tools to improve the the retention of on-farm sources of so-called ‘problems’ (‘waste-products’) to be viewed as valuable (‘by-products’), … by enabling the use of biochar together with the capacity of plants (pastures, arable crops & tree ) to re-use & recycle nutrients, whilst also reducing financial costs & un-necessary annual application of fertilizer inputs.

The following research proposal was presented at Rotorua in June 2015, Land Use Opportunities Symposium, along with many other informative presentations & resulting debates by scientists, farmers, plant nurserypeople & bee-keepers .

To date (May4th 2016), 11 months since my initial presentation of this research proposal, I have received verbal support from a wide range of farmers & public, however, as yet there has been no practical start on using no-tillage seed drills to apply biochar into pasture root zones, in order to capture cow urine patches, or to avoid, remedy or mitigate against off-farm nutrient losses

Where to next? I would be happy to receive your email suggestions to


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