Fertiliser Research and Development

The focus of our fertiliser extension and research programs is on the efficient use of existing fertiliser products and the development of enhanced efficiency fertilisers.


Considerable emphasis is placed on applying these products in the right place and at the right time. Soil and plant tissue analysis are used to better predict the rates at which fertilisers should be applied, and the use of computer based decision support tools to fine tune fertiliser programs is gaining favour within the industry.


Our Nutrient Advantage Laboratory Services is NATA accredited and operates in accordance with the international standard ISO/IEC 17025. Analyses conducted at the lab are certified under the ASPAC proficiency scheme. Our accreditations are a reliable indicator of the technical competence of a facility to perform specific tests. Nutrient Advantage Laboratory Services delivers consistently high quality analytical results by employing nationally and internationally recognised standardised analytical methods.   

We operate one of the largest commercial plant nutrition research and development programs in Australia, with more than 30 replicated research trials per annum, often in conjunction with customers, independent organisations and agronomists.


Our long term experiments aim to produce insights that benefit Australian farmers and allow them to improve fertiliser use efficiency and adopt sustainable fertiliser practices. We are also committed to helping farmers in ways that may assist them to improve productivity and profitability through expanding and developing our range of products and services. The development of new fertilisers is driven by the needs of farmers and is focused on improving nutrient use efficiency, flexibility and environmental performance. One of our sustainability keystone projects is the establishment of a joint research partnership to study nitrogen losses from conventional and enhanced efficiency fertilisers to reduce environmental impacts of fertiliser use. IPL offers two enhanced efficiency fertilisers:

 • Entec® is a treatment that retains nitrogen in the stable ammonium form for an extended period. This reduces nitrogen losses to leaching (waterways) and / or denitrification (losses to the atmosphere) while conserving more nitrogen for plant uptake. Both trials and customer use continue to demonstrate the potential for significant reductions in GHG as well as yield increase with the use of Entec (see pages 35-42 of the Australian Sugarcane Annual 2016 and Less Nitrogen Lost is More Gain in Cane, also in the Australian Canegrower, Sept 2017).

Green Urea NV™ is a top dressing fertiliser, recommended where volatilisation losses of ammonia are likely. Green Urea NV products contain urea treated with the urease inhibitor, N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT), and are aimed at delaying hydrolysis of urea into unstable forms that may be lost to the atmosphere, thereby reducing emissions related to fertiliser usage. Green Urea NV can help to protect against volatilisation losses, particularly for:

• intensive dairy and beef pasture production

• irrigated cotton where urea is applied mid-season

• agronomic forestry situations

• field crops where urea is applied to bare soil or soon after crop germination.


Key highlights in fertiliser research and development during 2017 included the following:

• A new joint research project with the University of Melbourne into new fertiliser technologies for sustained food security, with further development of prototype products planned for 2018;

• The development of novel fertiliser nutrient delivery systems, including trace element coating of fertilisers on despatch;

• Continued market growth of IPL’s enhanced efficiency fertilisers, Entec and Green Urea, which minimise nitrogen losses to the atmosphere as GHG and to waterways; and

• Continued work on the Australia-China Joint Research Centre of Healthy Soils for Sustainable Food Production and Environmental Quality and Soil microbial indicators for efficient use of nitrification inhibitors research projects.


Planned for 2018:

• Research and development support for the extension of IPL’s quality standards throughout the fertiliser distribution business;

• Development of prototype products as part of the new joint research project with the University of Melbourne as part of the Healthy Soils for Sustainable Food Production and Environmental Quality;

• Research and development support for the implementation of our fertiliser product lifecycle management procedure which will incorporate new product introduction and product deletion;

• Continued work on nutrient use efficiency to support our customers in increasing their yields while reducing their costs and environmental impacts; and

• Rolling out our new Nutrient Advantage sampling app (LABSTREAM) and the upgraded Nutrient Advantage Pro.


Case Study: New fertiliser technologies for sustained food security.

With society facing the triple challenges of food security, environmental degradation and climate change, we recognise the need for fundamental research to develop next-generation fertiliser products that will improve nitrogen use efficiency to feed a growing population while reducing nitrogen losses from food production systems to the environment.


As part of the Australia-China Joint Research Centre of Healthy Soils for Sustainable Food Production and Environmental Quality, IPL is partnering with the University of Melbourne and experts in fields including chemistry, chemical engineering and soil science to apply a novel multidisciplinary approach to develop and test new, highly-efficient fertilisers. This is not only critical for addressing the triple challenges, but also for the competitive advantages of the Australian fertiliser industry.


The Centre of Healthy Soils for Sustainable Food Production seeks to investigate the practical challenges of understanding the sustainable limits for the productive use of soil, freshwater, river flows and terrestrial and marine systems better and the reducing impacts on soil, fresh and potable water, urban catchments and marine systems from agricultural systems. A key aim of the Centre is to reduce the footprint of agriculture production systems by retaining nutrients in food, reducing wastes, developing climate resilient systems and remediating soils. As Australia’s largest fertiliser manufacturer, IPL is a key partner in the work of the Centre in regard to introducing new technologies and management practices that will improve farming productivity and sustainability, which has broad social implications for national food security and the sustainability of rural communities.


This project aims to produce innovative and cost-effective fertiliser products, which will have a significant impact on the profitability and sustainability of food production. The project provides excellent research training opportunities in a multidisciplinary high-quality environment and will not only advance Australia’s reputation as a “clean and green” producer, but also create opportunities for market expansion nationally and internationally.


Case Study: ENTEC use means peace of mind, less nitrogen losses and more gain in cane

In wet or dry seasons, Robert Silvini likes the peace of mind that comes with using ENTEC treated fertilisers in his sugarcane.

"By using urea blends treated with ENTEC, I know 

the nitrogen is staying on my farm and there's a 

much lower risk of losing it in runoff after a 

downpour," he said. "I'm also doing my bit to 

make sure our industry is protecting the Great

Barrier Reef."


Mr Silvini grows cane on a range of soil types between Forrest Beach and Taylors Beach, east of Ingham. He feels more confident that his cane is benefiting from the nitrogen supplied by ENTEC urea blends and there's a much lower risk of nitrogen leaching from the sand hills or floodprone blocks he farms.


"I like the idea that by using urea blends treated with ENTEC, the nitrogen stays in the soil for longer and whether the cane is cut early or late, I am giving the crop the best possible chance to make the most of the nitrogen," Mr Silvini said.


Sibby Di Giacomo, branch manager at Ingham Farm Centre, described ENTEC as a welcome development for the district's cane growers.


"Nitrogen management is a constant challenge for cane growers who have to cope with the most unpredictable weather conditions and with the Reef close by, there's increasing pressure on growers to improve nitrogen use efficiency," he said. "ENTEC keeps nitrogen stable in the soil for longer, giving it more staying power so the crop can use the nitrogen more efficiently. We like ENTEC because it means growers like Robert have a better alternative for enhancing the efficiency of their nitrogen applications while protecting the environment."

On the Kolan River north of Bundaberg, cane farmers Glenn and Susy Robertson are taking steps to change their fertiliser management for the better. In addition to long-standing best management practices like soil testing, trash blanket farming and banding fertiliser into the soil, they have recently started using ENTEC and split fertiliser applications.

They are finding the changes especially good for protecting against leaching losses and keeping nitrogen available to the crop for longer on their lighter soils. The farm has a mix of soil types, with river loam, grey forest country and sandy soils. According to Glenn, the most difficult soils to manage are sands, with leaching a real problem.


"To get yields to lift on the sandy soils normally takes a wet year or a lot of watering, but with that comes leaching," he said. That's why three years ago, they trialled ENTEC with their cane fertiliser blend on half a block of sandy soil. At the same time, they cut the fertiliser rate by about 20%.


"I figured I could cut rates because I would be getting more than 20% extra from the fertiliser if it wasn't leaching away," Glenn said.

The result was a difference of around 35 cm of cane growth and around 15% extra yield, which was enough to see him adopt ENTEC on all the sandy country. "I use it on all the sandy soils now and have started using it in the grey forest country as well with similar results," he said.


"I'm already using less than the local cane board's recommended fertiliser rates and I'll be going further this year," he said. "With ENTEC we're getting better use of the nitrogen, so I don't have to put as much on."