Nitrogen balances and losses on intensive dairy farms


  • S.F. Ledgard
  • J.W. Penno
  • M.S. Sprosen



Nitrogen (N) balances were constructed for "average" dairy farms in New Zealand, south west England and The Netherlands, and for Dairying Research Corporation (DRC) farmlets varying in stocking rate and use of N fertiliser and maize grain. N surpluses were calculated to indicate the potential impact on the environment and these were compared with measured N losses from the DRC farmlets. On the average New Zealand farm, annual N inputs of 186 kg N/ha/year (mainly from N2 fixation) resulted in N outputs in milk+meat of 55 kg N/ha/year (30% efficiency) and a N surplus of 131 kg N/ha/year. Dutch farms produced 70% more milk/ha but had N inputs of 568 kg/ha, N outputs in produce of 81 kg/ha (14% efficiency) and a N surplus of 487 kg/ha. English farms were intermediate. In the DRC farmlets, applying fertiliser N at 400 kg N/ha/year increased N surpluses and nitrate leaching by 3-4 fold, resulting in nitrate-N concentrations in drainage of 2.5× the recommended maximum for drinking water. The most efficient farm system received no N fertiliser and was highly stocked (3.3 Friesian cows/ha) for very high pasture utilisation. This resulted in similar milk production/ha to Dutch farms (with 1/3 the N inputs) and a 45% efficiency of conversion of N inputs from N2 fixation into milk and meat products. Keywords: dairy farm, nitrate leaching, nitrogen balance, nitrogen fertiliser, stocking rate







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