The NZAGRC’s former nitrous oxide and soil carbon work streams were combined into one programme this year. This ensures a strong overall framework, closer communication and full GHG analyses across the programme. The programme focusses on three key areas:
1. Identifying and prioritising plant traits for low GHG emissions;
2. Mitigation practices to maintain soil carbon and reduce nitrous oxide emissions at paddock scale; and
3. Defining the achievable soil carbon stabilisation capacity of New Zealand grassland soils.
Current progress and research stories
Pasture technology company receives greenhouse gas funding
Pastoral Robotics Ltd, founded by Aucklanders Geoff Bates and Bert Quin, has received a grant from the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Council (NZAGRC) to help optimisation and on-farm testing of its full-size ‘Spikey’ prototype. Spikey® is a tow-behind device for dairy farmers to detect and treat fresh cow urine patches, long before they become visible via increased grass growth. “By the time they are visible, it is too late to do anything much about reducing either losses of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, or nitrate leaching”, says Dr Quin.
Geoff Bates said that Spikey® essentially measures soil electrical conductivity to allow detection of fresh urine patches on a daily or every-second-day basis, and simultaneously treat them with the most appropriate spray treatment for the farm’s location and soil type. The first product developed, named ORUN®, is a mix of the urease inhibitor nbot and the growth promotant gibberellic acid. Field tests to date show an average 70% increase in nitrogen (N) recovery from the urine patch. The ORUN® keeps the urea in the urine in that form for a few days, allowing the urea to spread out so that more plants access the N. This results in more grass growth from every urine patch, and lower N losses.
“Calculations indicate that up to 14% more grass can be grown annually” said Quin. “The main environmental benefit to date has been less nitrate in the soil profile. We are now investigating sprays that will minimise nitrous oxide greenhouse gas emissions in as wide a range of conditions as possible
The pair say that unlike most other ways of reducing losses to the environment under investigation, Spikey® is a win-win solution for farmers in that the extra grass growth obtained makes it very cost-effective for farmers to use in its own right. Towing Spikey® over the 3-4 hectares grazed each day would take only 20-30 minutes, they say. “On top of this, it will also be possible to apply fertiliser nitrogen at the same time, so for farmers ‘following the cows’ with fertiliser urea anyway, the increase in time required would be minimal.”
Pastoral Robotics expects to have an 8-meter width ‘Spikey2’ ready for farm trials in late March.
-- View a short video of Spikey® in action https://youtu.be/77DfSfaovhc
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