Synthetic Nitrogen Fertiliser rules

Here's all the information about the rules around the cap on how much synthetic nitrogen fertiliser can be used on farms and how farmers can report how much they are using.

What is synthetic nitrogen fertiliser?

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is any substance that is more than 5% nitrogen by weight and is applied to land as a source of nitrogen nutrition for plants. Dairy farmers need to report the amount of the fertiliser they are using by 31 July of each year.

The regulations

Regulations to better control the effects of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser were introduced in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 (NES-FW) as part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater reforms. The regulations apply to pastoral land of 20ha or more and put a synthetic nitrogen fertiliser cap of 190kgN/ha/year and came into effect on 1 July 2021. Anything above this level requires a resource consent.

To enable farmers to report their nitrogen fertiliser usage from 1 July to 30 June of each year, there are three online tools. For the current year, farmers need to use the tools after 30 June 2024 to report their nitrogen usage by 31 July 2024.

The reporting tools

The tools to report synthetic nitrogen use are provided by fertiliser companies Ravensdown and Ballance. For those who are not customers of the two companies, there is a regional sector tool called the N-Cap Webform. Here are the links: 

Ravensdown: link)  

Ballance: link)

N-Cap Webform: link)

As always, our staff are on hand to provide advice and assistance to farmers. Call us on 0800 736 222(external link) or email For those using the N-Cap Webform, if you do not have a New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) you can enter 0000 in that field. A video guide to filling out the form can be found here(external link).

What to do if you're using natural nitrogen fertiliser?

If you're a dairy farmer relying solely on natural nitrogen fertilisers, you must inform the Council you are not applying synthetic nitrogen. Natural nitrogen fertilisers are derived from animal or plant material, and can come as compost, mixed, dried, or pellets. You can do that by clicking here(external link).

Useful links

Ministry for the Environment guide(external link) | webpage(external link)

Fertiliser Association of New Zealand 2023 Code of Practice for Fertiliser Nutrient Management(external link)

The Essential Freshwater reforms: a quick guide

The Government’s Essential Freshwater reform package aims to protect and improve our rivers, streams and wetlands to stop further degradation of freshwater, start making immediate improvements and reverse past damage to bring our waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM 2020) sets out the policies and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-FW) establishes the regulations to achieve this.

What this means for people in Taranaki is requirements are being set for those carrying out certain activities that pose risks to freshwater and freshwater ecosystems. Anyone carrying out these activities will need to comply with the standards and, in many cases, people need to apply for a resource consent from the Council to continue carrying out regulated activities.

All of this is underpinned by Te Mana o te Wai(external link) (the mana of the water). Te Mana o te Wai means that when managing freshwater, the health and well-being of the water is protected and human health needs are provided for before enabling other uses of water.

What's the definition of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser?

It includes any manufactured urea, diammonium phosphate or sulphate of ammonia. It does not include composts, soil treatments and other fertiliser that is composed of plant or animal waste and is minimally processed.

Who needs to report nitrogen use?

The nitrogen cap applies to all farming types. However, dairy farmers have an additional requirement to report on certain aspects of their nitrogen use by 31 July each year. The person responsible for operating any dairy farm land must provide Council with information that describes fertiliser types, quantities and application dates so that the application rates of nitrogen per hectare per year can be calculated. The Council may recover costs associated with managing information supplied.

What happens if the cap is exceeded?

Any farm that exceeds the 190kg N/ha/yr limit will need to put an action plan in place to reduce usage to below the cap, which includes applying for a resource consent.

What is the N-Cap Webform?

The N-Cap Webform is a recording system that requires manual calculation of the same information which goes on the Ravensdown and Ballance websites. It’s a national tool developed by regional councils, the dairy sector, the Ministry for the Environment and fertiliser companies.

What are my options if I am unable to use one of the online reporting tools?

The preferred method is to use the new tools but if you are unable to use an online tool get in touch with us and we can provide a manual spreadsheet.

I have provided my information via the N-Cap Webform, do I need to record it again via the Hawkeye or MyBallance tools?

No. You only need to enter data through one system. If you choose to record your synthetic nitrogen information in the N-Cap Webform, you do not need to record in HawkEye or MyBallance.

Do farmers have to provide fertiliser receipts?

While none of the three tools requires farmers to provide the physical receipts for their purchases, farmers are required to keep their receipts and relevant information for proof of placement if the Council undertakes auditing.

What should non-dairy farmers report?

The reporting requirement only applies to dairy farmers. If you are a sheep and beef farmer or have a goat, deer or any other type of farm applying synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, you are still required to comply with the regulations but you do not need to report your fertiliser use to the Council.