Step 6: Record and monitor
Recording and monitoring are essential for assessing whether the land manager has achieved their nutrient management plan goals and how well the planned activities went. It also helps identify areas where management could be improved. Remember the old saying, “you cannot manage what you do not measure.”
Good records for different areas and LMU’s are valuable for assessing success, and should give details of all aspects of the nutrient management plan put into practice, covering:
- fertiliser types
- application rates
- timing of application
- application methods
- nutrients added by methods other than fertiliser – e.g. conserved feed from another area brought onto the block, dairy effluent applied to land
- stocking rates and animal type
- notes on special considerations – e.g. buffer zones not treated
- new soil or herbage test results
- any environmental measurements – e.g. groundwater nitrate levels
- records of risk factors that may affect environmental effects from nutrients – e.g. rainfall records, irrigation records, effluent applications, etc.
- extent to which production goals were met
- Resource Consent and conditions
A property map with LMU’s marked can be a good way to record fertiliser applications (manually or by GPS), with details noted in the appropriate paddocks or blocks. In this way a series of maps covers the year’s fertiliser treatments.
Record keeping serves many purposes but key uses include:
- a systematic approach to identifying and solving ongoing problems
- a reminder of the influences of seasonal variations
- as a means of measuring progress or lack of it, over time
- to serve as a tool that might unlock additional information when required at some point in the future
- as a tool to undertake a regular critique of management practices
- as a tool to demonstrate that the land manager has taken steps to overcome various problems by implementing their stated best management practices
- a means of determining returns on fertiliser and other nutrient investments
Good paddock records help in calculating nutrient budgets, calculating nutrient and water use efficiency, identifying areas of a paddock with varying productivity, refining production targets and predicting future nutrient requirements. They can also be used to demonstrate that nutrients have been managed for the best production and environmental outcomes.
Accuracy and attention to detail pay off. For example, accurate records of the position of soil sample sites will aid in interpreting the results against yields, soil types, incidence of frosts, water logging, etc. These records also allow future sampling in the same positions. GPS technology is increasingly used for accurate positioning but good records using paddock landmarks and measurement from the landmarks allow relocation of the sites within a few metres. Permanent markers and an established soil sampling routine also help.
Soil testing will commonly be used to check changes in soil nutrient levels and some land managers will also use herbage tests. As long as nutrient applications go as planned, most land managers will not monitor actual environmental indicators (e.g. water quality measures) on their property. Those who apply special nutrients – e.g. those requiring resource consent for particularly high nutrient applications or because of sensitive areas or catchments– may be required to do specific monitoring as a condition of their resource consent.
On dairy farms with high rates of supplements going into the system, effluent sampling for nutrient content is highly recommended.
Most land managers keep fertiliser use records for their own information - to know how their fertiliser programme is going, to assess pasture and crop responses and to relate these results to future fertiliser planning. In addition, by following this Code and keeping accurate records of compliance, regional authorities can have confidence that this Code is being followed. Given that authorities have limited contact with most land managers, proof of good management depends on good records.
Sample templates for recording are provided in Appendix 5.