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Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser cap

The use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on land can impact water quality in our streams, rivers, lakes and ground water.

On 1 July 2021, the Government introduced a cap on the application of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser for land grazed by livestock. This was done through the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F), which form part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater package. Scroll down for more detail on the NES-F regulations.

A key requirement of the NES-F is the annual reporting of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser records for dairy farms. Reporting for the period 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023 is now open, and should be completed by 31 July 2023.

The National Data Portal is now live and can accept reporting from both the fertiliser companies or directly, as explained below.

There are two main ways for dairy farmers to submit their annual reports:

1. If you are either a Ravensdown or Ballance customer, then you can submit using their online tools. You must be a registered customer and have your farm digitally mapped:

2. For dairy farmers submitting directly to the national web portal, you should first use the N-Cap spreadsheet to help calculate your records, then enter those into the national web portal:

3. For organic farms or farms that do not use any synthetic nitrogen, see the instructions on how to enter a ‘zero’ usage report

View the step by step video guides on how to use the Te Uru Kahika Nitrogen Cap web tool to submit your records.

It is a maximum limit of synthetic nitrogen that can be applied to pastoral land as a permitted activity.

It only applies to synthetic nitrogen (i.e. the nitrogen content of the synthetic fertiliser whether all nitrogen or as a combination of nutrients) where the dry weight is more than 5% nitrogen. However, where manufactured and biological nitrogen fertilisers are mixed together, and their combined nitrogen content comes to more than 5% of their dry weight, they become synthetic nitrogen fertilisers and are covered by the nitrogen cap.

The 190kg N/ha/yr cap limit applies for each year from 1 July to the following 30 June. 

All farms 20 hectares and larger that have any grazed land, regardless of:

  • The type of plant grazed - whether permanent pasture or annual crops.
  • The type of grazing animal - whether cattle, sheep, pigs, deer, poultry, goats, horses, etc.
  • The duration of the grazing - whether it is for a few days or the whole year.

  • Each individual hectare of grazed pasture has a cap of 190kg N/ha/yr.
  • All grazed land on farm including grazed forage crops and harvest crops must average 190kg N/ha/yr for each contiguous landholding.

A contiguous landholding is any block of connected land belonging to a farming operation. If a farm has several unconnected blocks, separated by land not belonging to the farm, each block is a separate contiguous landholding. Blocks separated by roads, rail or waterways such as rivers and creeks are still classified as contiguous. 

To report your nitrogen usage to council, your landholding needs to be split into land categories.  There are two overarching categories, grazed land and ungrazed land. All grazed land on the dairy is subject to the 190kg/ha nitrogen cap. Grazed land is split into three land categories.

  • Grazed Pasture - All grazed grassland not intended for harvest. Grazed pasture has a nitrogen cap of 190kg/ha
  • Grazed Forage Crops - Annual forage crops not intended for harvest.  Forage crops have no nitrogen cap but are included in the grazed land where average N applied must be 190kg/ha or less. 
  • Grazed Harvest (non-forage) Crops - Intermittently grazed crops that are intended for harvest (may include grains, grasses, trees). Harvest crops where stubble only is grazed are classified as ungrazed land. Grazed harvest crops have no nitrogen cap but are included in the grazed land where average N applied must be 190kg/ha or less.

Ungrazed land refers to land that is used for purposes other than grazing for all or part of the year.  This includes laneways, dairy sheds and ungrazed harvest crops. Nitrogen applied to ungrazed land is not capped and is not included in the average nitrogen calculation for the landholding. Although ungrazed land is not included in the cap, all nitrogen use on the contiguous landholding must be reported.

Paddocks on the farm can be classified in different land categories during the year.  For example, if a paddock is used for both grazing and silage/baleage/hay, it is classified as pasture when grazed, and as ungrazed land once grazing has stopped until harvest. 

When reporting, if a paddock is in forage crop for at any point of the year in conjunction with grazed pasture or grazed harvest crops then the nitrogen applications will all be reported under the grazed forage crop category regardless of land category. Ungrazed land will always remain outside of the grazed land calculations.  

Currently only dairy farms must report their nitrogen use to council however the rules still apply to all farm types.

Yes. The NESF reporting requirement includes those farmers within the Lake Rotorua catchment, even when working towards the agreed reduction targets of your Nutrient Management Plan.

Yes, the information required under the legislation is different from the information you supply to your dairy company. 

When do I have to report to council?

Your nitrogen use information for the period 1 July to 30 June is due to be submitted into the national data portal by 31 July each year.

The national data portal is now live. Dairy farmers are expected to submit their 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 records by no later than the end of October 2022.

Both the major fertiliser companies (Ballance and Ravensdown) have developed management tools that will enable your fertiliser data to be recorded throughout the year and submitted annually by 31 July each year once approved by you. We encourage you to talk to your fertiliser representative to discuss this preferred option.

However, if you choose to submit your own records, you can use the N-Cap spreadsheet to help you calculate your fertiliser use and generate your farm specific outputs that can then be entered into the new data portal.

Contact information:

  • Full name
  • Contact phone number
  • Email address

Farm information:

  • New Zealand Business Number (NZBN)
  • Farm name 
  • Dairy supply number
  • Dairy company name
  • Total farm area (in hectares)
  • Total effective area (area farmed, in hectares)  
  • Geospatial boundary (Add a geospatial shape file of boundary. Depending on how your data is submitted you may be able to select the geospatial area on a map.)
  • Receipts for fertiliser purchases:
    - supplier's name
    - date of purchase
    - item description
    - item unit purchased (kg)
  • Dairy effluent consent number

Information for each contiguous land holding:

  • Name / label (give a name or number for each land parcel)
  • Total area in hectares (If you have only one contiguous land holding, this will be the same as total farm area; if you have more than one contiguous land holding, the sum of total areas should be the same as the total farm area.)
  • Geospatial boundary
  • Grazed land area (in hectares)
  • Grazed forage crop area (in hectares)
  • Grazed non-forage land area (in hectares)
  • Ungrazed land area (in hectares)

Synthetic nitrogen cap calculation:

  • Reporting year (e.g. 2022)

The following outputs can be calculated using the Ballance or Ravensdown (HawkEye) tools, or the N-Cap excel calculator.

  • Grazed land nitrogen application rate 
  • Grazed forage crop application rate
  • Grazed non-forage crop application rate
  • Ungrazed land application rate
  • Confirmation that less than 190kg of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser per hectare has been applied to grazed pasture 

Fertiliser application:

  • Fertiliser name and manufacturer
  • Day of application
  • Percentage of nitrogen in fertiliser

The Ministry for the Environment guidance on synthetic nitrogen recording provides a section on what dairy farmers must report to the regional council. It states that farmers must provide “records of all synthetic nitrogen fertiliser purchased during the year”. The N-Cap reporting systems require farmers to record their fertiliser purchases.


In the MyBallance and Ravensdown’s HawkEye systems these date, type and quantity details will be automatically populated for your N-Cap record. In the Regional Sector N-Cap Webform farmers will need to enter the purchase record in fill-in boxes to capture the fertiliser supplier name, purchase date, product name and quantity purchased.


None of the three systems requires farmers to provide the physical receipts for their purchases. This approach was adopted by the collaborative work between the regional sector and fertiliser companies. The agreed method provides more useful and consistent summary information on purchase than would have been possible through the provision of receipts.

Do I need to provide fertiliser receipts when I submit my nitrogen application information? 

You can log in via the Ballance website

In the first instance, we encourage you to talk to your fertiliser supplier to discuss collating and reporting your fertiliser use. They should be able to help guide you through the requirements.

However if you would like to discuss any aspect of the new N-Cap requirements with Regional Council staff, then please email us on with your name, contact phone number and a brief summary of your query, and we will ensure the appropriate person contacts you back.