Words and images supplied by Ballance Agri-Nutrients
Farmers looking to reduce their losses to the environment can use a powerful new tool to make it easier to plan, cost and put in place the mitigations to do the job.
New rules to improve water quality are coming into force around the country, with rules setting limits on the amounts of contaminants entering fresh water. Farmers face the challenge of increasing their focus on sustainability while remaining productive and maintaining profits. For some reducing losses also presents the opportunity to boost profits.
To make it easier for farmers to effectively meet this challenge, Ballance and AgResearch have spent more than 10 years developing MitAgator, a comprehensive, practical, science-based tool that identifies where losses of the four main contaminants to water occur on farms, and then provides the best ways to reduce those losses.
“MitAgator is the first ever software tool to singlehandedly deal with nitrogen, phosphorus, E. coli and sediment losses. The most appropriate mitigations can be targeted to those areas of greatest loss (critical source areas). It comes with around 30 years of independent research into nutrient and sediment loss and E. coli risk built into it,” says Ballance Agri-Nutrients Nutrient Dynamics Specialist Jim Risk.
See your farm’s critical source areas
“Even though MitAgator brings a lot of complex information together, it’s highly visual, so is easy to understand,” says Jim. The software produces a risk map of the farm for each contaminant, showing the critical source areas where most losses occur, which can be targeted for the biggest impact. “Farmers will probably already know some of these areas, but losses like nitrogen leaching or phosphorus runoff aren’t so obvious and vary across a farm. Having risk maps for all the contaminants in one place also allows you to be smarter with your mitigations,” says Jim.
To identify critical source areas, MitAgator builds on Overseer farm management data, a detailed digital farm map, contour/elevation data and on-the-ground information about soil types. Powerful algorithms developed from many years of research are behind the risk maps and mitigations. “Ballance can help with the farm map and source the elevation and soil type information,” says Jim.
See the best mitigations for each area
For each critical source areas, MitAgator compares the effectiveness and cost of the 24 mitigations currently built into it and selects the most suitable mitigations. Some of the mitigations are cutting edge, having only recently come to light from recent research, but others are more widely known, such as fencing waterways and riparian planting. Most of the mitigations are suitable for dairy, sheep and beef or deer, but some are tailored to specific farm types such as dairy or deer. Additional mitigations can be added in the future, but this will depend on the outcomes of research into them.
Any existing on-farm mitigations that are yet to be quantified and accounted for in terms of effectiveness can be selected from MitAgator’s built-in set of mitigations. This provides information on work already done, which can be used to demonstrate reductions already made.
Mitigation scenarios can be tested by differing approaches. A target can be set based on a desired reduction or available budget, MitAgator will then rovide information on mitigation options to reach that target. Alternatively, different combinations of mitigation options can be tried out, to see what they achieve.
After validating the mitigation scenarios for your farm, a Ballance Farm Sustainability Services specialist can integrate MitAgator’s risk maps and mitigation scenarios into a comprehensive Farm Environment Plan. This clearly identifies areas or sources of losses across the property and the costs and impacts of potential mitigations, as well as highlighting the good management practices already in place on your farm and identifying the ones that can be worked towards.
MitAgator is operated by Ballance’s Farm Sustainability Services Team. To get started, you need a nutrient budget and a digital farm map. Ballance will provide soil maps, an elevation layer and an aerial image of the farm (preferred but not essential). Three options are available: a risk map only, a risk map with scenario analysis, or the full package which includes a farm plan. To find out more, contact your Ruralco Representative.
MitAgator is just one outcome of the Ballance Agri-Nutrients led Clearview Innovations Primary Growth Partnership programme funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries to develop products to increase on-farm productivity and reduce nutrient losses to the environment. The Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation’s Clean Water, Productive Land programme funded development of the algorithms behind MitAgator.