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Nitrogen Cap (N Cap) and Nitrogen Use Reporting

The Nitrogen cap applies to all pastoral (grazed land). Requirements for Nitrogen use reporting to Council apply to all dairy farm land from 1 July 2021 (to be reported 1 July 2022).

The Nitrogen Cap

Since 1 July 2021, all farms over 20 hectares with any grazed land must comply with the nitrogen cap regulation which states that no more than 190 kilograms of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser per hectare may be applied per year to:

  • Any individual hectare of pasture
  • The pastoral land use as a whole (this is, the combined area of pasture, forage crops, and other grazed pastoral land use) when averaged across that area.

Most farming operations will not be affected by the nitrogen cap but some higher users of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on grazed pasture will be

Any synthetic nitrogen applied to land used to grow pasture or other grazed vegetation is covered by the nitrogen cap regardless of the:

  • Type of vegetation grazed – whether pasture or crops
  • Type of grazing animal – whether cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, deer, poultry, or other animals
  • Duration of the grazing – whether it is for a few days or the whole year.

The Nitrogen cap does not apply to non-grazed arable land or horticultural crops.

If you cannot meet this cap you are required to apply for a resource consent, more details are in the FAQs below.

Nitrogen cap Reporting Requirements



It is a requirement for dairy farming land and non-complying activity consent holder to report their synthetic nitrogen fertiliser usage from 1 July 2021. The first round of reporting is due to Regional Councils on the 1 July 2022.

We understand many dairy farmers are working closely with their milk supply companies and fertiliser companies to track their Nitrogen use.

Regional Councils are working together with industry (Federated Farmers, DairyNZ, dairy supply companies, fertiliser companies) to develop a centralised reporting platform for all N-cap and forthcoming environmental compliance data to be held within.


Cows copy of communiKate dairy consent June10 3

Where can I find out more?

The Ministry for the Environment and industry websites have helpful information and guidance, see links below:

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Follow the flow chart below to see if the nitrogen cap applies to you.

Pages from N Cap guidance for crop farms 2

The nitrogen cap weight limit applies only to the nitrogen part of the fertiliser, not to the fertiliser product in its entirety.

For example applying 50 kg/ha of Urea as a product is applying 23kg of Nitrogen, as Urea is 46% Nitrogen content

Sythetic nitrogen fertiliser for the purpose of this nitrogen cap regulation means any substance, whether solid or liquid, that is more than 5% nitrogen by weight, and is applied to land as a source of nitrogen nutrition for plants.

  • This includes, for example; manufactured urea, diammonium phosphate, or sulphate of ammonia.

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser does not include a compost, soil treatment, or fertiliser that is derived from plant or animal waste or residue, and is minimally processed (for example, being composted, mixed, dried, and pelleted). The nitrogen cap does not include farm dairy effluent.

The nitrogen cap is calculated differently for different pastural land used within a single contiguous land holding. A contiguous land holding is any block of connected land belonging to a single farming operation. If a farm has several unconnected blocks, separated by land not belonging to the single farming operation, each block is a separate contiguous land holding. The contiguous land holding may be intersected by roads, railways, and waterways, so long as the adjoining land on either side of these corridors belong to the same farming operation.

N Cap guidance for crop farms Page 09

The nitrogen cap synthetic nitrogen fertiliser application to land limit applies to all areas where ground-rooted vegetation is grazed by livestock. Within a contiguous land holding, there may be multiple different vegetation types grazed and different nitrogen cap limits apply to these pastoral land uses.

Fig.1 showing how different land uses within a contiguous land holding fit together. Each of these land uses will have a slightly different interpretation of the N-CAP limit and the calculation used to understand whether they are compliant with the regulation.

Contiguous landholding

We expect most farmers already track their nitrogen use, and that all but the most intensive farms are unlikely to exceed the nitrogen cap.

If you think you may exceed it, you will need to apply for a ‘non-complying’ activity resource consent. There are two types – a ‘phased reduction’ consent and a ‘good practice consent’.

These consent options are not to maintain business as usual but to provide a pathway to make Nitrogen redutions manageable over time when immediate compliance is not possible.

For the ‘phased reduction’ consent, valid until 1 July 2023 you must demonstrate through a plan how you will reduce your Nitrogen use down to the cap level by the time the consent expires.

For a ‘good practice’ consent, valid for up to five years, you would need to demonstrate through an expert report practises to limit nitrate loss to no more than what it would have been if 190kg/ha/yr were being used.

If you expect to exceed the cap, please give your consents team a call on 0800 108 838 to talk through your options.


Using too much can be bad for business. Over fertilising on saturated soils especially over the winter period increases the risk of those applied nutrients being lost from the farm system. The more you use, the greater the risk. Best business practice is keeping those nutrients cycling within the farm system.

Using too much is bad for the environment. Nitrogen leaching from pastoral farming land contributes to the decline in water quality. We support the government's commitment to halt and reverse this decline. Everyone wants safe fresh water for swimming and food gathering. Climate change is having increasingly severe impacts on our everyday lives. The by-product of Nitrogen fertiliser application – nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that is contributing to these emissions.

If your farm is required to report its synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use, your fertiliser company should be able to help you document the necessary information to be reporting to Regional Council by the 31 July 2022, and annually thereafter.  The most important thing to be doing now is recording your Nitrogen fertiliser usage.

More information will be given on reporting requirements over this coming year, check back to this page for updates.

If you are not able to have your Nitrogen use reported through your fertiliser company, follow the checklist below to get you started.


We acknowledge the farming community need time to adjust to these new requirement, paticularly the dairy sector with their first round of reporting due mid 2022.

If you think you may not have sufficient records for 2021-2022 please give our consent monitoring team a call on 0800 108 838 to talk through options,


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