Finding answers to environmental challenges

by Anonymous Author

As part of their doctoral studies, a group of young women at Lincoln University have helped to find answers to one of the major environmental challenges facing farming by contributing to research into reducing nitrate leaching on farms.

Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching (FRNL) is a six-year, $28m primary sector initiative aiming to reduce farming’s environmental footprint by improving the nitrogen efficiency of the animals and plants used on New Zealand farms.

Dairy, arable (crop) and sheep and beef farms are involved in the programme, which is focussing on three areas, alternative pasture species, crops, and farm systems.

The PhD students, Kirsty Martin, Anna Carlton, Roshean Woods, Lisa Box, Elena Minnee, and Grace Cun, joined a team of scientists from AgResearch, DairyNZ, Foundation for Arable Research, Landcare Research, Lincoln University, and Plant and Food Research investigating which forages will best reduce nitrate losses.

The multi-partner approach is the first of its kind on this scale in New Zealand where several organisations are working together seeking answers to improve environmental and economic sustainability.

Based at the Lincoln University research dairy farm, Kirsty Martin is researching the response to nitrogen of 12 different pasture forages.

Her interest in farming began in rural England where she was brought up. Her family moved to New Zealand when she was 14 and a stint on a dairy farm in the school holidays made her decide that an agricultural science degree was a good career option. She has been monitoring plant responses to different levels of nitrogen applied as fertiliser to identify whether some are more efficient at utilising nitrogen than others.

“More nitrogen efficient pastures may lead to lower nitrogen inputs into the farm system and less risk of nitrate leaching.”

Ms Martin, now in the last stages of her PhD, said she is glad all her hard work is being used to make an impact on farmers to reduce their environmental footprint and wouldn’t have taken the three-year journey if it wasn’t useful to the industry.

Once finished, she will go on to work for a farm consulting company as an environmental consultant based out of Darfield.

“Taking on this three-year journey has been amazing,” Ms Martin said.

“I now have the experience and knowledge to understand the challenges farmers face with their environmental issues, and it’s my job to give them advice and assistance with the management and practical aspects of the solutions.”