Words by: Elaine Fisher

Addressing water quality issues will help grow the New Zealand brand and farmers will respond to the challenges, as they always have, with innovation and good management, says Warwick Catto, science strategy manager for Ballance Agri-Nutrients.
That response will be assisted by research and development by agricultural companies and private and public research organisations.
Warwick says the government’s Essential Freshwater policy is not to be feared but farmers must be sustainable both economically and environmentally.
“If the farming business is not environmentally sustainable in the long term, the business will disappear.
“The policy reflects social change in how we think of waterways and environment, a little like the way attitudes have changed to, say, smoking.”
And Warwick is advocating another change too. “I think we need to stop talking about the effective areas of a farm because that implies the balance is not effective.
“Those areas of wetland or swamp may be providing vital ecological services, including retaining nutrients and sediments, which enhance the overall farming operation.”
The new water policy will impact farming, and the challenge ahead is to find ways of limiting leaching and greenhouse gases without adversely affecting farm production. There are four important “Rs” to fertiliser use, says Warwick: right product, right place, right time, and right rate.
Ballance had anticipated a number of the changes in the Essential Freshwater policy, especially around nitrogen and phosphorus, some time ago.
“As a business we have to be future ready in terms of innovation and ask what will the issues be in five years’ time and what widgets (products) will we need, as many take three to five years to create.”
One of those products is SurePhos, a slow release phosphorus fertiliser.
The result of years of trial and error, it was developed with the support of the Primary Growth Partnership.
Whatever the product, says Warwick, farmers need the assurance of good science and research to know that it will work. Early, successful adopters of new products or management techniques quickly become the role models others will follow.
Another tool developed by Ballance is MitAgator – geospatial software that helps farmers make cost effective decisions around reducing water contaminants, making it possible to farm more sustainably without losing focus on productivity and profits.
“Farmers are close to their land and know which areas are likely to be losing sediment, for example. What MitAgator does is clarify where the most important areas are on farm and give farmers the confidence to act.”
Long term, Warwick is optimistic about the changes the Essential Freshwater policy will bring to farming and the country. “I think it will enhance the image of New Zealand farmers, our primary produce, and will benefit the waterways and the environment we all enjoy.”