More Profit from Nitrogen: enhancing the nutrient use efficiency of intensive cropping and pasture systems was supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (then Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment) as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC), Dairy Australia, Sugar Research Australia (SRA), Hort Innovation and the lead research organisations.
Contact: Marguerite White, MPfN Program Science Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
The More Profit from Nitrogen Program (MPfN) has been a five-year partnership, commencing in 2016, between Australia’s four most intensive users of nitrogenous fertilisers: cotton, dairy, sugar and horticulture. Comprehensive research and development was conducted to increase nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) across the four sectors whilst improving profitable and sustainable use. By better understanding the influence of contributing factors upon NUE in farming systems, MPfN has generated greater knowledge and understanding of:
- the interplay of factors to optimise N formulation, rate and timing across industries, farming regions and irrigated/ non-irrigated situations;
- the contribution (quantifying rate and timing) of mineralisation to crop or pasture N budgets; and
- how enhanced efficiency fertiliser (EEF) formulations can better match a crop or pasture’s specific N requirements.
Research and extension activities were supported by $5.889 million funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (then Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment) as a part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, with a further $9.757 million cash and in-kind contribution from the partnering RDCs, research organisations and collaborating partners.
MPfN was managed by CRDC, in partnership with Dairy Australia, SRA and Hort Innovation. The eleven research projects were delivered by nine lead research organisations:
- NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI)
- University of Southern Queensland – Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (USQ)
- Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
- The University of Melbourne (UoM)
- Queensland Government – Department of Environment and Science (DES)
- Queensland Government – Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF)
- Northern Territory Government – Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (NT DITT)
- University of Tasmania – Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (UTAS/TIA)
- Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Activities were supported by a further 24 collaborating partners, overall encompassing 93 interacting research, technical and PhD candidate positions.
Forty-five field sites were used in the research effort, from Darwin in the north to Hobart in the south, supported by laboratory experimentation, analysis and systems modelling. The research has delivered or informed new N fertiliser formulations, application and measurement technologies, decision support tools and best management practice guidelines.
MPfN continuously produced progressive outputs that were embedded into industry programs, reducing lag time between research and adoption by cotton, sugar, horticultural and dairy producers. Over the Program’s duration, 173 extension activities were conducted that engaged with over 16,000 farmers, service providers and commercial advisors, as well as national and international researchers. These included industry and science conferences, field days, training workshops and webinars. 165 communication campaigns reached 478,000 people, through industry articles, videos, podcasts, websites and social media. Project materials developed included peer reviewed journal articles, industry best management practice (BMP) guidelines, economic case studies and decision trees/calculators totaling 84 outputs. Importantly, the teams of the MPfN Program conducted or participated in 77 collaboration activities with over 1500 other industry, research and commercial stakeholders, to ensure relevance, efficient delivery and consideration of aligned research.
In June 2021, the MPfN Program delivered the final technologies and decision support resources that will significantly contribute to increased industry NUE in coming years. As the outputs and outcomes of the research effort are extended through industry programs, it is anticipated that farmer uptake and adoption of recommendations and guidelines will gain momentum.
The MPfN Program legacy promises to be a significant reduction in environmental impact from nitrogenous fertiliser use whilst delivering greater sustainability and profitability outcomes for Australian farming businesses.
Science Coordinator: Marguerite White, ICD Project Services
Five years of cross- sector research, communication, extension, and monitoring and evaluation activity was managed by the independent science coordinator in collaboration with the Program Management Committee (PMC).
- MPfN Program Final presentation video
- Ag Econ Final June 2021 evaluation report
- Outcomes of the MPfN Program: final evaluation video
Publications and conferences:
Partners of the MPfN Program prepared and published peer reviewed articles and conference abstracts on research outcomes between 2017-2021. The MPfN Program Science Publications and Conference List provides a summary of outputs until October 2021, including those in preparation and review to be published in the near future.
Outcomes for cotton:
Enhancing nutrient use efficiency in cotton
Lead Partner: NSW DPI
Partners: CRDC, CSIRO, UoM and The University of Queensland
Project Leader: Dr. Graeme Schwenke
Research encompassed the intricate relationship between N supplied through soil mineralised and fertiliser sources, P supply, fertiliser placement & timing, and irrigation strategy to achieve greater NUE and improved P soil nutrition. The project conducted core trials at the Australian Cotton Research Institute as well as several annual trials on commercial farms.
Final findings and recommendations of this project have been integrated into fact sheet and manual resources of the industry’s joint extension program, CottonInfo, together with articles primarily published in the CRDC Spotlight magazine.
Optimising nitrogen and water interactions in cotton
Lead Partner: University of Southern Queensland (Centre for Engineering in Agriculture)
Project Leader: Dr. Diogenes Antille
Increasing understanding of the influence of rainfall/irrigation wet-dry cycles on mineralising soil organic N into plant available forms and trial of a potentially available organic N rapid soil test.
MPfN Economic Case Studies for Cotton
- Case study 1: Implications for timing of N fertiliser application on irrigated cotton yields: apply all N up-front or split?
- Case study 2: Matching N plant demand using Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers and implications for N field run-off in irrigated cotton.
The combined research outcomes of the MPfN Program cotton projects were integrated into the Nutrition chapter (Chapter 8) of the Australian Cotton Production Manual. Members of the research team co-authored this chapter alongside other key nutrient researchers and advisors of the industry.
Outcomes for dairy:
Increasing nitrogen use efficiency in dairy pastures
Lead Partner: Queensland University of Technology
Partners: Dairy Australia & NSW DPI
Project Leader: Ass. Prof. David Rowlings
Trials were conducted at Casino and Camden, NSW, to investigate interactions between N application (source (incl. EEFs), rate & frequency), soil mineralised N and irrigation in sub-tropical dairy pasture systems.
Improving dairy farm nitrogen efficiency using advanced technologies
Lead Partner: The University of Melbourne
Partners: Dairy Australia
Project Leader: Ass. Prof. Helen Suter
Gaining a better understanding of the amount of N supplied through mineralisation in dairy pastures of the industry’s major production region of south-west Victoria. An industry N budget calculator, which accounts for mineralised available N, was developed for the industry to support the Fert$mart N Guidelines.
- MPfN Dairy Advanced Technologies Final report
- MPfN Dairy Advanced Technologies Final presentation video
Quantifying the whole farm systems impact of nitrogen best practice on dairy farms
Lead Partner: The University of Melbourne
Partners: Dairy Australia and Tasmania Institute of Agriculture/University of Tasmania (TIA-UTAS)
Project Leader: Prof. Richard Eckard
Employing Australian dairy’s DairyMod to test and validate the industry Fert$mart N best management practices across key dairy farming regions. The project refined and updated NUE guidelines for the industry and led preparation of the farmer focused Fert$mart N Pocket Guide for the dairy industry.
- MPfN Dairy whole system N impact Final report
- MPfN Dairy whole system N Impact Final presentation video
MPfN Economic Case Studies for Dairy
- NSW case study: Quantifying the whole farm systems impact of nitrogen: best practice on an irrigated dairy farm (NSW)
- TAS case study: Quantifying the whole farm systems impact of nitrogen: best practice on an irrigated dairy farm (TAS)
- VIC case study 1: Quantifying the whole farm systems impact of nitrogen: best practice on a rainfed dairy farm (VIC)
- VIC case study 2: Improving dairy farm nitrogen use efficiency: using soil moisture monitoring (VIC)
The combined research outcomes of the MPfN Program dairy projects resulted in the preparation of two new nitrogen management resources for the dairy industry. These resources are now published on the industry’s Fert$mart Program website.
Outcomes for sugar:
Improved nitrogen use efficiency through accounting for deep soil and mineralisable N supply & deployment of EEFs to better match crop N demand.
Lead Partner: NSW DPI
Partners: SRA, Sunshine Sugar and Southern Cross University
Project Leader: Dr. Lukas Van Zwieten
Assessment of N stores in soils of sub-tropical sugarcane regions to improve understanding of N supplied from mineralisation and optimal use of EEFs to better match crop N demand. The project conducted field validation of remote sensing technologies and investigated the merits of developing a dose response model for urea and PCU.
The project published articles in SRA’s CaneConnection Magazine to keep industry updated over the 3.5 year duration of research, the final publication in the Winter 2020 edition provided an overview of the findings and recommendations of the research.
Smart blending of enhanced efficiency fertiliser to maximise sugarcane profitability
Lead Partner: Queensland Government DES
Partners: SRA, HCPSL, Farmacist Pty Ltd, T.R.A.P Services and QDAF
Project Leader: Dr. Weijin Wang
Investigation into optimal blending ratios of EEFs with conventional urea to better match sugarcane crop N dynamics across five sugarcane regions. The project conducted extensive field-based research to ensure regional representation of seasonal, climatic and soil variation, across major sugarcane regions, likely to influence the performance and economic efficacy of blended EEF products.
- MPfN Sugar smart blending fertiliser Final report
- MPfN Sugar smart blend fertiliser Final presentation video
The project published articles in SRA’s CaneConnection Magazine to keep industry updated over the four-year duration, the final publication in the Spring 2020 edition provided an overview of the findings and recommendations of the research.
New technologies & managements: transforming NUE in cane production
Lead Partner: Queensland Government DAF
Partners: SRA, The University of Queensland and AgResearch NZ
Project Leader: Dr. Matthew Redding
Targeted formulation and management technique options investigated to better match N release to cane crop demand by controlling N transformation and solubility and combating N “leakiness” to the environment.
- MPfN Sugar new technologies final report: Coming 2022
- MPfN Sugar new technologies final presentation video
The project published articles in SRA’s CaneConnection Magazine to keep industry updated over the five-year duration. The Summer 2020 edition provided an update on the advanced technologies used in the research and laboratory, small plot and simulation findings. Field trials were concluded in June 2021.
MPfN Economic Case Studies for Sugar
- Case study 1: Accounting for mineralised nitrogen (N) in crop budgets to improve N use efficiency and profit
- Case study 2: Smart blending of Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers to maximise sugarcane profitability
Outcomes for horticulture:
Optimising nutrient management for improved productivity and fruit quality in mangoes
Lead Partner: NT DITT
Partners: Hort Innovation, QUT, Australian Mango Industry Association
Project Leader: Dr. Costancio (Tony) Asis & Dr Joanne Tilbrook
Research trials utilised 15N stable isotope to quantify plant N and cycling through the soil-plant-atmosphere system and to determine the contribution of soil mineralised N to the overall mango crop N budget. Investigations into post-harvest impacts to firmness and colour of N application and ethylene assisted ripening were also undertaken. The first Mango NUE BMPs were developed for the industry, including EEF options.
- MPfN fruit quality in Mangoes final report
- MPfN fruit quality in Mangoes final presentation video
- Mango NUE BMP Guidelines: Due for release by NT DITT 2022
Optimising nutrient management for improved productivity and fruit quality in cherries
Lead Partner: TIA-UTAS
Partners: Hort Innovation & Cherry Growers Australia
Project Leader: Dr. Nigel Swarts
Research trials utilised 15N to quantify plant N and cycling through the soil-plant-atmosphere system and to determine the contribution of soil mineralised N to the overall cherry crop N budget. Investigations into post-harvest impacts to firmness, colour and taste of N application treatments were also undertaken. The first Cherry NUE Guidelines have been developed for the industry, including consideration of biological options.
- MPfN fruit quality in Cherries final report
- MPfN fruit quality in cherries final presentation video
- Cherry NUE BMP guidelines
MPfN Economic Case Studies for Horticulture
- Mango case study: Optimising nutrient management for improved productivity and fruit quality in mangoes
- Cherry case study: Optimising nutrient management for improved productivity and fruit quality in cherries
Characterising the soil organic carbon and nitrogen pools, and the potentially mineralisable soil nitrogen at MPfN field trial sites
Lead Partner: QDES
Partner: Projects of the MPfN Program
Project Leader: Dr. Phillip Moody
As an agreed action of the 2017 MPfN Program Partner Forum, this additional project capitalised on the large geographical spread of MPfN projects. The program’s diversity provided an opportunity to benchmark the soil N mineralisation potential of agricultural soils under different management systems, and also to benchmark the lability of the soil organic carbon and soil organic nitrogen pool in these soils.
Surface soil samples were submitted from the research sites of the individual projects from nil applied N treatment, with the aim to undertake the following soil analyses: potentially mineralisable N (PMN); particulate organic C (POC) and N (PON); and permanganate oxidisable (labile) organic C (POxC).
Nitrogen use efficiency indicators for the Australian cotton, grains, sugar, dairy and horticulture industries
Lead Partner: CSIRO
Partners: The University of Queensland and the projects of the MPfN Program
Project Leader: Dr. Diogenes Antille & Dr. Phillip Moody
As an agreed action of the 2018 MPfN Program Partner Forum, this additional project reviewed current metrics used to measure NUE in Australian agricultural systems to reflect productivity, profitability and environmental aspects. A suite of NUE indicators were then identified that had relevance across sectors to communicate research findings from the MPfN Program. The proposed NUE indicators were applied to data derived from the MPfN Program, provided by MPfN Project Leaders, which enabled industry-specific NUE values to be determined. These values were used to compare and contrast NUE between industries and identify opportunities where NUE could be potentially improved. An NUE indicator framework was adapted for the Australian cotton industry, as an example, based on a generic framework developed by the EU Nitrogen Expert Panel (2015).
- MPfN N efficiency indicators final report
- Environment and Sustainability Indicators (Volume 10, June 2021, 100099) publication
MPfN economic case studies across sectors
- Cross-sector case study 1: Assessment of the relationship between the most economic rate of N and N use efficiency: testing specific cotton, sugar, dairy and horticulture scenarios
- Cross-sector case study 2: Long-term costs and benefits of best practice Nitrogen Use Efficiency: market access and environmental considerations for increased profit
Nitrogen Natters newsletter
Partners: Projects of the MPfN Program
Project Leader: Marguerite White
Nitrogen Natters was a quarterly newsletter of the MPfN Program comprised of contributing articles prepared by project team members. The initiative was spawn from the inaugural 2016 MPfN Program Partner Forum, with the desire to foster ongoing information exchange between all team members, not just the leadership group. It also provided a platform for sharing the extension and communication activities across the program. The newsletter was distributed to stakeholders of the program, including the Australian Fertiliser Industry’s certified Fertcare® agronomists, and was further shared onwards within industry and the research community. Fifteen editions of Nitrogen Natters were published and distributed.
MPfN Program Partner Forums (2016-2021)
Partners: Projects of the MPfN Program
Project Leader: Marguerite White
Five annual MPfN Program Forums were conducted in Melbourne (Vic), Coolangatta (Qld), Darwin (NT), Benowa (Qld), via Zoom (2020) and Cairns (2021). These ranged from one to three-day events. The 2020 forum was to be held in Hobart, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, changes were made to deliver two four-hour “exchange” sessions via Zoom webinar and videos were made and distributed. The forums were highly valued by all team members, collaborators and industry/ research stakeholders because of the opportunity they provided to came together to update on research activities, share ideas on methodology and interpretation, and plan for future cooperative research, communication and extension activities.
The 2019 partner forum was strategically planned in collaboration with Fertilizer Australia to coincide with the dates and venue of the Australian Fertilizer Industry Conference. This bought the MPfN team members together with a key target audience for outcomes of the program, industry agronomists and fertiliser advisors. A joint field day and information session was conducted for participants of both events, including a session where each of the ten MPfN projects delivered “snapshot” presentations to the captured audience. Similarly, in 2021 the forum was aligned with the 2021 Soils Science Conference.
Targeted Conference Special Sessions - 2018 & 2021
Partners: Projects of the MPfN Program
Project Leader: Marguerite White
Whilst there was a very strong presence of MPfN team members extending and communicating research activities and outcomes across a breadth of industry and soil/agronomy science conferences, both nationally and internationally, the MPfN Program submitted abstracts to secure special sessions at both the 2018 National Soils Science Conference (Proceedings of the National Soils Conference, 2018) and the 2021 Joint SSA & NZSSS “Soils, Investing in Our Future” Conference (Conference Proceedings Handbook, 2021). Six presentations and one poster were accepted in 2018, and 13 presentations and two posters in 2021 from the MPfN Program team members.
2021 Joint SSA & NZSSS MPfN Program Special Session Recordings:
- Valuing soil organic matter for effective nutrient management in high input dairy pastures - Helen Suter The University of Melbourne
- N2O losses from urine patches following application of DMPP coated urea in dairy pastures - Johannes Friedl Queensland University of Technology
- NUE indicators for the Australian cotton, grains, dairy and horticulture industries - Diogenes Antille CSIRO Agriculture and Food
- Controlled Release N versus Potentially Mineralisable N: The Showdown - Lukas Van Zwieten NSW DPI
- Quantifying the lateral leaching of Nitrogen fertiliser in an irrigated cotton using 15N - Jon Baird NSW DPI
- Does excess nitrogen fertiliser affect in-crop nitrogen mineralisation in irrigated cotton soils? - Graeme Schwenke NSW DPI
- Irrigation deficit effects on soil inorganic nitrogen in alternate-furrow flood irrigated Australian cotton production systems - Ben MacDonald CSIRO Agriculture and Food
- Selecting controlled-release urea for sugarcane based on fertiliser nitrogen release and crop nitrogen uptake dynamics - Weijin Wang Queensland Department of Environment and Science
- Cotton roots respond to phosphorus and nitrogen fertiliser and irrigation management - Clarence Mercer NSW DPI
- Dissolved phosphorus movement and balance within cotton fields - Gunasekhar Nachimuthu NSW DPI
- New Techniques to increase the throughput of fertiliser product screening: machine vision and microdialysis - Matt Redding Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
- DMPP coated urea increases pasture yields after long-term (3 years) application in a subtropical dairy pasture - David Rowlings Queensland University of Technology
- The influence of soil moisture on N2 and N2O emissions from an intensive dairy pasture - Arjun Pandey The University of Melbourne
Internationally, eight abstracts from the MPfN Program were accepted as presentations for the 2020 8th Global Conference of the International Nitrogen Initiative in Berlin (3-8 May). Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this conference was postponed. An online format was conducted 30 May-3 June 2021 (8th Global Nitrogen Conference Online Program).