Fertiliser N use was steadily increasing in New Zealand in the years leading up to this study. Some hill farmers were thus considering fertiliser N in a strategic rather than tactical sense i.e. annual applications were becoming routine inputs to forage supply systems, rather than use of infrequent applications to bridge cool-season feed-gaps.
Elementary calculations suggested that generation of extra feed through fertiliser N application at a cost of <10 cents/kg DM could be highly profitable where returns from enhanced animal production were >10 cents/kg DM consumed. This of course assumed high levels of utilisation of feed generated and suitably responsive animals but, not withstanding the complexities of ensuring these conditions were met, the potential clearly existed for increased profitability through increased use of fertiliser nitrogen. This has been born out through the practical experiences of farmers and consultants, and has been one of the major drivers for increased fertiliser use in hill country over the last decade.
The environmental consequences of increased N fertiliser use, particularly in hill country, was a major industry talking point. Regulatory groups became increasingly sensitive to the use of nitrogen; therefore the project team worked closely with Regional Councils to ensure the project was fully understood and that the results, messages and discussion generated were useful and constructive. Regional Council representatives were invited to every focus farm meeting and were encouraged to be actively involved in assessing the outcomes of the demonstrations. Regional Councils had an increased representation at the 2006 annual conference.