How effective are broad-scale nutrient mass balances for determining the sustainability of lot-feed manure application?
Additional Document Info
Nutrient mass balances have been used to assess a variety of land resource scenarios, at various scales. They are widely used as a simple basis for policy, planning, and regulatory decisions but it is not clear how accurately they reflect reality. This study provides a critique of broad-scale nutrient mass balances, with particular application to the fertiliser use of beef lot-feeding manure in Queensland. Mass balances completed at the district and farm scale were found to misrepresent actual manure management behaviour and potentially the risk of nutrient contamination of water resources. The difficulties of handling stockpile manure and concerns about soil compaction mean that manure is spread thickly over a few paddocks at a time and not evenly across a whole farm. Consequently, higher nutrient loads were applied to a single paddock less frequently than annually. This resulted in years with excess nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium remaining in the soil profile. This conclusion was supported by evidence of significant nutrient movement in several of the soil profiles studied. Spreading manure is profitable, but maximum returns can be associated with increased risk of nutrient leaching relative to conventional inorganic fertiliser practices. Bio-economic simulations found this increased risk where manure was applied to supply crop nitrogen requirements (the practice of the case study farms, 200-5000 head lot-feeders). Thus, the use of broad-scale mass balances can be misleading because paddock management is spatially heterogeneous and this leads to increased local potential for nutrient loss. In response to the effect of spatial heterogeneity policy makers who intend to use mass balance techniques to estimate potential for nutrient contamination should apply these techniques conservatively. Crown Copyright 2006.