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, 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, mwhite@icdprojectservices.com.au

Introduction

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, 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 72 interacting research, technical and PhD candidate positions.

Forty-two 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, 185 extension activities were conducted that engaged with 15,500 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. 160 communication campaigns reached 600,000 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 65 outputs. Importantly, the teams of the MPfN Program conducted or participated in 75 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.


Program Outcomes:

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).   

 


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)
Partners: CRDC 
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

Coming October 2021


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.

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 Economic Case Studies for Dairy

Management resources

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.

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.

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

Coming October 2021


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 N 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. 

  • Final report: Coming September 2021
  • 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 N 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 and colour of N application and ethylene assisted ripening were also undertaken. The first Mango NUE BMPs were developed for the industry, including biological options. 

MPfN Economic Case Studies for Horticulture

Coming October 2021


Whole-of-program collaborations:

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 NUE Indicator & Legacy Economic Case Studies

Coming 2021

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.

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).