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Going Green

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Technology that boosts fertiliser efficiency while reducing its environmental impact is capturing international attention for its Taranaki inventor.

Inglewood-based Fine Particle Application NZ (FPA NZ) has patented a fertiliser-spreading technology it calls Fine Particle Application (FPA).

A trial being conducted this summer on wheat in Cambridge, England, was prompted by research into the technology's use on crops in Canterbury and Southland. England has to import high-protein wheat.

In England the plots where FPA is being used are producing better growth, better yields and denser, darker-coloured wheat than those with conventionally fertilised crops, says FPA managing director Brett Emeny.

Data on yield and protein levels will be calculated after next month's harvest.

Trials using the process on South Island wheat plots produced significantly higher yields and protein levels with the same amount of fertiliser.

A Canterbury University PhD study has shown the use of FPA doubled grass growth, halved leaching losses, reduced atmospheric emissions by 14 per cent and increased the effectiveness of water in irrigated agriculture by 38 per cent.

Scientists had never seen such responses from fertiliser and climate made no difference to FPA's effectiveness, he said.

FPA NZ has collected major environmental awards in the past two months.

In June it won the green economy category of New Zealand's annual Green Ribbon environmental awards. A month later, the Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) recognised the company's efforts.

TRC, which presented 16 environmental awards to educational and environmental groups, farmers, iwi and businesses, said in the citation that FPA technology reduced leaching and runoff, as well as nutrient loadings on soils and waterways, making fertiliser use efficient.

The fine fertiliser granules produced by FPA technology were spread uniformly so plants could use all the nutrients, the citation said.

Emeny said granular urea produced 10 kilograms of grass per 1kg of nitrogen, compared with 30kg of grass when FPA was used.

"This shows that a lot of the nutrients are not getting to the plant with conventional application," he said.

FPA halved nutrient loss by allowing even distribution of the blended fertiliser granules.

"Plants receive just the right ration of nutrients. With a 200kg/ ha application of fertiliser, every square centimetre of soil gets the right ration of fertiliser. FPA overcomes the hit and miss of trying to somehow move it to where it needs to be." Emeny said.

"Farmers don't have to spend any more money. We apply the highest quality fertiliser processed to the highest standard and they will get pasture of significantly higher quality."

During more than 20 years of developing FPA, he'd maintained a vision of helping farmers produce high-quality grass, and more of it, so their returns were better.

As a helicopter pilot applying fertiliser to Taranaki hill country farms back in 1985, he noticed it did not always work.

With hill-country farming in a downturn then, he developed a system allowing him to apply fertiliser, spray weeds and oversow grass seed all at once. "So I could do all those jobs in one pass. It was far more efficient and meant the farmer got a good return on his spend."

So the path to developing FPA began. Using his experience of developing equipment for helicopter spreading, he adapted it for ground-spreading. "The result on the ground is the same."

Components for the grinding equipment are built in engineering workshops and assembled on site at his workshop into what he describes as a 200 horsepower pepper grinder.

Emeny said FPA technology removed the hit-and-miss approach of isolated fertiliser granules breaking down enough to reach plants. "Fertiliser is difficult to apply evenly because the particles are different sizes and weights. And they separate out when you spin the blend. The heavy particles go a long way and the fine ones fall behind the truck when you're doing ground-spreading. That shows clearly because you get striping."

The FPA process grinds the fertiliser blend to a cement-like consistency that can be applied evenly to get nutrients efficiently to the plants, so they grow better. "Different elements of the fertiliser can't move sideways through the soil to the plant. The nutrients go down into the soil and only a small amount gets to the plant if it's far from where the granules land. Getting an even nutrient distribution is difficult unless you process particles to the same size."

Emeny said soil testing was based on the assumption that fertiliser would be spread evenly. "But a fertiliser programme is only as good as its weakest link. I've identified the weak link in the system."

The company processes the fertiliser on-farm for ground or aerial spreading and has its own field technicians to conduct soil and pasture testing, make fertiliser recommendations, co-ordinate fertiliser transport and monitor the new pasture in plots that allow farmers to see the results for themselves.

FPA processors can be added to the back of spreader trucks to grind the fertiliser as it's applied. "It's like spraying cement so I've had to modify the equipment so it keeps the fertiliser in suspension." Water used in the process reduces dust and evaporates, leaving the fertiliser behind to do its work.

He said truck spreading fitted the dairy industry's rotational grazing system and FPA had five trucks demonstrating the process to dairy farmers around the country. He is also licensing helicopter operators to use the system.

FPA operations manager Fay Emeny said another benefit of FPA was that farmers didn't need to worry about the timing of rainfall when they applied their fertiliser.

Fay Emeny is Brett Emeny's daughter, who he says is the future of the company.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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