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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.

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



Dairy farmers and non-complying activity consent-holders are required to report their synthetic nitrogen fertiliser usage from 1 July 2021.

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

Regional Councils have been 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.

There are three nitrogen-use reporting tools that you can choose from to record and submit your synthetic nitrogen use:

You only need to enter the data through one of the systems listed above.

To use the Ravensdown or Ballance tools you must have a digital farm map. If you use the Regional Sector's webform, a spreadsheet is available on that web page to help you work out Nitrogen usage before inputting into the tool.


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 are aware that many farmers already supply some fertiliser data to their dairy company. The new regulations require different data than what is currently provided. The development of the new tools by the Regional Sector and fertiliser industry has been carried out to meet those different requirements and provide a consistent way for farmers to submit data to their regional or unitary council.

The legislation requires you to provide specific application dates by product as well as average synthetic N applied by land category. This is not included in the Statement of Fertiliser Purchase. The SOFP is also produced for a different time period from the legislation (1 June – 31 May versus the legislated reporting year 1 July – 30 June). Therefore, you cannot only use your annual statement of fertiliser purchase.

The information will be stored by the regional councils for reporting to Ministry of the Environment as required.

A calculation spreadsheet can be used to record nitrogen use and is available from council rural or farm liaison team members. If a farm owner wishes to, they can provide information directly to their regional council using this manual form however this approach is not encouraged.

Enquiries about manual recording should be directed to your regional council.

You are not required to provide fertiliser receipts, but it is a good idea to keep the physical receipts of purchase on file, so they are available if there is any query by your council.

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 you will need to enter purchase records in fill-in boxes to capture the fertiliser supplier name, purchase date, product name and quantity purchased.

None of the three systems require 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.

Sometimes fertiliser costs can be shared by a farm owner and sharemilker, either by splitting an invoice for payment or each buying independently for the same property. The information needed to meet the council and MfE requirements is the application rate of synthetic nitrogen on pastoral land, regardless of the terms of purchase or payment.

You should record the application rates for all synthetic nitrogen fertiliser used on the grazed area; this should be recorded only once for each contiguous landholding. You can keep the physical receipts of purchase on file, so it is available if there is any query by your council.

The preferred way of recording synthetic nitrogen use is through one of the fertiliser company portals – HawkEye or MyBallance. If you are not signed up with either of these, then you can use the N-Cap webform online tool provided by the Regional Sector.

If you cannot access any of these tools, then the best way forward is to get in contact with your regional council to discuss how else you could provide the necessary information.


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