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.   

During 2018, we focused on increasing our capacity to analyse specific farming customer issues relating to soils, crops and crop nutrition, aiming to solve these issues through the development of innovative products and services. 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 2018 included the following:


• Continuation of a joint research project with the University of Melbourne into new fertiliser technologies for sustained food security, which has so far resulted in the development and testing of prototype products in 2018;

• The commercialisation, at a number of distribution sites, of novel fertiliser nutrient delivery systems including trace element coating of fertilisers, with further installations of these systems planned for 2019;

• Continued promotion of IPL’s enhanced efficiency fertilisers, Entec and Green Urea, with a 32 percent increase in Green Urea volumes. These products minimise nitrogen losses to waterways and to the atmosphere as GHG;

• 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; 

• Research and development support for the extension of IPL’s quality standards throughout the fertiliser distribution business, including the assessment of innovative ways of reducing and reusing waste; and

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


Planned for 2019:


• A new partnership with the University of Adelaide and CSIRO to research and develop novel urea coatings for use in arid cropping zones where a particular nutrient deficiency is common; 
• The development and commercialisation of a new enhanced efficiency ammonium phosphate fertiliser, which, like our Entec and Green Urea products, aims to reduce nitrogen losses to the air as GHG and to waterways through leaching;
• The test marketing of silicon fertilisers which have been shown to increase stress resistance in crops, as well as replace silicon lost from soils through farming some crops, such as cane and rice;   
• Assessing opportunities to assist productivity improvement in the extensive beef industry;
• Continued work on nutrient use efficiency to assist our customers to increase their yields while reducing their costs and environmental impacts; and
• Rolling out upgraded Nutrient Advantage Pro software, which was tested and further developed in 2018 prior to release, and which will further promote the LabStream soils and plant testing application, which was text marketed with some of our customers this year.


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."


Case Study: IPF extends Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries research to reduce nitrogen run off from cane farming to waterways.

During 2018, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) completed a project to design, fabricate and test a mechanical device to improve soil cover in cane fields. In their previous research, DAF found that one of the issues contributing to increased concentrations of nitrogen in waterways was the slot or groove shape created in soils by commonly used farm applicator machinery. This slot shape can act as a funnel to direct water and exacerbate pesticide and nutrient runoff following rainfall events or overhead irrigation. The project resulted in the creation of the ‘StoolZippa’ which is designed to run behind the applicator machinery and close the slot shaped groove in the soil. 

IPF extended this research through the promotion of the StoolZippa at grower meetings and agronomy forums throughout 2017 and 2018 as part of the project, due to its strong alignment with the aims of our own research, product development and customer focused solutions aimed at reducing nitrogen run off to waterways and GHG emissions to air. 

“The combination of Entec-treated urea and effective slot closure with the StoolZippa will contribute to improved water quality in nearby waterways as well as decreasing nitrogen losses to the air as greenhouse gases,“ said Charlie Walker, IPL’s Fertiliser Technical & Development Manager. “Less nitrogen losses to the environment not only reduces those impacts, but it also results in improved nitrogen use efficiency for 
the sugarcane industry.” 

Robert Dwyer, IPF Technical Agronomist, and Paul Rogers from Farm HQ are shown with StoolZippas fitted to a gessner applicator with a hydraulic depth control configuration on the axle, which was demonstrated to farmers at the Proserpine Show.