File(s) not publicly available

White clover or nitrogen fertiliser for dairying under nitrate leaching limits?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 17:41 authored by David Chapman, Ina Pinxterhuis, Stewart LedgardStewart Ledgard, Tony Parsons
As the pressure intensifies to reduce nitrogen (N) losses to the environment from pasture-based dairy systems, interest in reducing N-fertiliser inputs and returning to grass–clover mixtures, where more N for pasture growth is supplied by biological N fixation (BNF), have been revived. However, the following question then arises: is BNF fundamentally different from fertiliser N with respect to N losses, especially nitrate-N leaching risk? The present paper addresses this question by reviewing empirical evidence in the context of N-cycling processes and the efficiency of N use for herbage production. Nitrate leaching data from studies comparing different sward treatments at the same level of total N inputs (fertiliser plus BNF) provide no evidence to suggest that leaching differs when N is supplied solely by fixation in mixtures, by fixation plus fertiliser in mixtures, or solely as a fertiliser to grass monoculture. Increasing clover content in mixed grass–clover pastures is likely to increase N leaching due to a lower ratio of soluble sugar and starch toNin herbage than the common companion grass species perennial ryegrass, and, therefore, a higher partitioning of N eaten to urine. Counteracting this effect, mixed grass–clover pastures may offer some potential for increasing N-use efficiency and reducing the whole-farm N surplus compared with grass-dominant pasture receiving high rates of N fertiliser. While there are undeniable benefits for the productivity of dairy systems from maintaining strong grass–clover mixtures, it is the total amount of N entering the system, rather than the form of N (BNF or fertiliser), that influences nitrate leaching rates.


Rights statement

© CSIRO 2018


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No



Journal title

Animal Production Science




Chapman, D., Pinxterhuis, I., Ledgard, S., & Parsons, T. (2019). White clover or nitrogen fertiliser for dairying under nitrate leaching limits? Animal Production Science, 60(1), 78-83. doi:10.1071/AN18577

Usage metrics


    Ref. manager