Increasing Profit From N, P and K Fertiliser Inputs PROC-9175172

RFT Description

RFT No. PROC 9175172: Request for Tender for Increasing profit from N, P and K fertiliser inputs into the evolving cropping sequences in the Western Region

Release Date

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Closing Time

5pm ACT local time, Tuesday 25 July 2017

Offer Period

Tenders will remain open for acceptance by the GRDC for a period of 6 months after the Closing Time.

Deadline for submission of Tender enquiries

5pm ACT local time, Tuesday 18 July 2017

Document Contact and Enquiries

Attention: Stephanie Meikle

Grains Research and Development Corporation


Electronic Lodgement of Tenders

Tenderers must submit their responses electronically through the Grains Investment Portal at


The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is a statutory corporation established under the Primary Industries Research and Development Act 1989. It is subject to accountability and reporting obligations set out in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. It is responsible for planning, investing in and overseeing research and development, and delivering improvements in production, sustainability and profitability across the Australian grains industry.


Current understanding of nitrogen transformations and fertiliser requirements to maximise crop profitability is not sufficient for today’s advisors and growers. Growers and advisors are increasingly unable to accurately estimate the nitrogen cycles components, transfer knowledge and assist with making/providing profitable N fertiliser decisions.  A concern of industry is that advice/decisions are made with incomplete knowledge of the complete N cycle. There is limited understanding of the transformation and fate of soil and fertiliser N and this is further complicated by changing farming systems and environment. Gaps exist in the understanding of both specific parts and the whole of the N cycle.

Quantifying the benefit of N application is crucial for grain growers, particularly given N fertiliser is one of the few in-season management strategies available to improve returns on all variable and fixed costs. While there are ‘decision support tools’ to guide N application, response to these applications has quite high levels of uncertainty. The complex and dynamic N cycle is poorly understood by advisors and growers who commonly try to understand just one component of the cycle (e.g. immobilisation), believing it will be the key to improving returns on N fertiliser while simultaneously using gross assumptions on other components like the amount of legume-derived N available to subsequent crops.

Existing N recommendation systems tend to sew isolated pieces of research together in order to understand the whole N cycle and calculate optimal N rates.  There are concerns about the scarcity and current relevance of these isolated pieces of research, as well as about the way they are stitched together to supposedly encumber all situations and all seasons. Given the looseness in the approaches to N recommendations, it is hardly surprising advisors believe N rates are currently adequate if they are within 20 kg/ha of the optimal rate, a situation they themselves believe could readily be improved.

This investment will investigate which parts on the N cycle need to be better understood based on a recognition of changes to farming practices and in which environments new information will be useful. It will investigate if improved knowledge of the parts can deliver a better understanding of the whole N system and ultimately improve N fertiliser recommendations, or if it is better to fully understand N completely at individual sites.

It will deliver research to answer questions on specific aspects of the N cycle and on N fertiliser responsiveness and requirements. The outputs of the research will be incorporated into a revised Select Your Nitrogen (SYN) model, which was last updated in 2003.


Phosphorus (P) fertiliser is a mainstay for agriculture on the highly weathered soils of the western region and, as such, has been well researched over many years. In more recent times a diminished research focus on P has coincided with a need for more understanding of the complexities of P in order to make cost-effective fertiliser decisions. Starter P fertiliser rates have been reduced on many farms to reduce costs (particularly during prolonged periods of low yields) with little apparent downside.  This is supported by soil test information which identities very few sites with test scores indicative of a response to P application. This has raised questions about how low P rates can go and if nil P is an option and for how long.  There is uncertainty about the rate at which soil P runs down and therefore about the length of time low P rates can be used.

There is also unease at how much fertiliser P will be required if and when soil P becomes limiting again. While primer effects of starter P to enhance absorption of soil P have been identified elsewhere, little is known about primer P effects in the western region. There is also concern about the spatial distribution of surface P with controlled traffic systems likely to deliver bands of higher concentration over time. This might provide a further rationale for primer P.

Soil testing is the main technique used to gauge P fertiliser requirements. Colwell is the main method, if not the only method, used to estimate plant available P in the western region. Results for this test are routinely ignored on certain soil types, especially forest gravels. More broadly advisors and growers have concerns over the suitability of the test, the accuracy of laboratory test measurements and the calibrations of the test to accurately predict P fertiliser responses and plant available from the soil. Positional availability of soil P in modern farming systems is contributing to scepticism and lack of understanding. Soil P can be stratified near the soil surface making it unavailable to plants when the soil is dry and/or non-wetting. The contribution of subsoil accumulations of P is unclear.

Cowell-P test calibrations commonly use an indicator of the soil’s P fixation or buffering capacity. In the western region this was initially estimated from soil type and/or native vegetation.  It then moved to use of the more objective measure of reactive iron. P retention index (PRI) was also developed and used in response to growing eutrophication problems. Currently most soil test analyses include the national standard measure of P buffering index (PBI). In the western region there was limited testing of PBI before it was widely adopted, and there has been little testing since, despite extensive use of the test.  There are now concerns PBI is behaving differently in the western region compared to elsewhere in Australia and questions about what exactly PBI is measuring.


Up to 50% of soils in the western region are low in potassium (K) (Bell, from UMU00042). K deficiencies are increasing on finer textured soil types, but in an unpredictable manner because of poor prognostic tools and knowledge.  The extent to which subsoil K contributes to plant requirements is unclear. The fate and therefore residual value of fertiliser K is unclear. More understanding is needed on the physiology and pattern of K uptake by plants and how it relates to plant requirements and fertiliser placement.

K deficiencies in the western region have become more common since first being identified in the 1960’s. Initially deficiencies were limited to weathered, coarse soils on the west and south coasts but now K deficiency is common and widespread, including on finer textured soils in low rainfall environments. Plant tests are commonly used to confirm insufficient plant uptake of K and the soil testing used to predict where K fertiliser will be required is dominated by use of the Colwell-K extraction method. While well calibrated for coarser soils, the Colwell-K method appears less accurate on finer soil types or on sandy surfaced duplex soils where K is typically concentrated below the soil sample zone.

There is evidence that subsoil accumulations of K can negate K responses where low Colwell-K results in the topsoil indicate inadequate plant-available K (e.g. Scanlan, 2015) and that, like for P, the K buffering capacity of soils may need to be considered to better calibrate soil tests for K.

Management responses to inadequate K are hampered by lack of fundamental understanding of K behaviour and plant uptake in western region soils. Examples include pattern of plant absorption in relation to plant requirements, why plant-available K, as measured by Colwell-K, alters little after application of high rates of K fertiliser, the extent and depth of K leaching, and K redistribution, accumulation and depletion throughout the soil profile.

The industry requires better tools and understanding to improve K fertiliser decisions. Issues include K interactions with other cations, especially sodium, improved K budgeting and determining optimal K fertiliser rates.

Given the complex nature of this investment and the wide range of skills required it is likely that this will require a collaborative approach that may include a number of public and private partnerships.

By June 30 2022, growers in the Western Region will improve profitability flowing from more efficiency nutrient use;

  1. Improved knowledge on nitrogen cycling and availability, crop specific responses and economics of application.
  2. Improved knowledge and quantification of soil P storage, sources of supply and responsiveness of crops to phosphorus will improve P fertilisation decisions delivering greater profits.
  3. Improved knowledge on sources, fate and responsiveness of wheat, barley and canola to potassium will increase profitable potassium use.

This GRDC investment is to:

  1. By 30 June 2022, complete a program of research and generate new knowledge and understanding of N within the farming system with a focus on:
    1. Direct measurement of the quantities and fate (including plant uptake) of N immobilised and mineralised from the soil organic pool, different types of stubble (species, amount, management, fallow), residual N fertiliser, legume-derived pools (including different species).
    2. Assessment of changing N mineralisation rates due to increasing summer/autumn rain in the Western Region and the impact on crop N requirements.
    3. The economics of N decision making in Western Region farming systems.
  2. By June 30 2022, update and make available the Select Your Nitrogen (SYN) model incorporating new knowledge from output 1.
  3. By June 30 2022, complete a series of experiments and generate new knowledge to determine the impact, including economics, of repeatedly applying low rates of P at crop establish. The research should focus on wheat, canola and lupins.
  4. By June 30 2022, complete a series of experiments and generate new knowledge to understand P availability and measurement thereof within the soil profile.
    1. The extent, impact and ways to correct P deficiency in sub-soils.
  5. By 30 June 2018 complete a technical and economic review and present GRDC with a report on the suitability of soil test methods to predict K responsiveness for the key soils in key environments across the Western Region.
  6. By 30 June 2022, complete a series of experiments and generate new knowledge and understanding of K in the dominant soil types in Western Region. The research will focus on:
    1. Understand K transformations and the fate of soil and fertiliser K.
    2. Physiology of plant uptake of K and K use efficiency in wheat, canola and barley.
    3. K movement into and through soils including the extent and depth of K leaching.
    4. The extent, impact and ways to correct K deficiency in sub-soils.
    5. The economics of K application in Western Region farming systems.
  7. By June 30 2022, at least one (1) post-doc researcher and two (2) PhD students have completed projects.
    1. Research topics can be N, P, K or trace elements.
  8. Annually, for the life of the project, upload all field trial results to the Better Fertilisers Decisions Cropping database.
  9. By June 30 2022, at least seven peer reviewed journal articles published communicating the results of the research in outputs 1 to 7.
  10. Annually, for the life of the project, deliver extension and training to increase the skill of at least 600 growers, advisers and industry professionals. As a minimum this will include;
    1. Presentations at field days and Updates workshops in Perth and regional areas.
    2. At least three workshops per annum delivering technical knowledge to advisers.
    3. At least five workshops per annum extending research outputs to growers.
  11. By March 2018, and each subsequent year, an Annual Progress Report detailing the key findings of the project for the reporting period.
  12. By June 2022, a Final Technical Report amalgamating the key findings, new knowledge and conclusions of the project to provide an overall interpretation of the work.

Application period

The application end date for this investment is 5pm ACT local time on 25 July 2017 as advised on the Grains Investment Portal and all applications must be submitted via the portal prior to this closing date for consideration.

All requests for further information or clarification in relation to this investment should be made in writing to prior to 5pm ACT local time on Tuesday 18 July 2017. All requests and responses to requests will be published on the GRDC website.

Selection Criteria

  1. A clear and thorough plan to achieve the project output, specifying:
    1. Method to be used
    2. Statistically sound experimental data generated via collaboration with SAGI West to develop appropriate statistical methodology for trial design, data analysis, and associated operational budgetary costings
    3. Proposed milestones
    4. Proposed locations of field experiments (if required to deliver project outputs)
    5. Staffing (including relevant skills, experience and availability of key personnel and proposed subcontractors)
    6. Budget (defining the funds sought in each year of the project and the potential investment from all parties)
    7. Project structure and management arrangements
  2. A plan for how the project will contribute to achievement of the outcome, specifying:
    1. Expected steps to deliver the outcome (pathway to market)
    2. Relevant assumptions in relation to each step of the pathway to market
    3. Identification of target users of the project outputs (who will the project directly deliver to e.g. grower, adviser, plant breeder, pathologist, the GRDC)
    4. Specific information, products and/or services to be delivered to target users
    5. Potential for the development of commercial IP
  3. Demonstrated track record of the project team, including:
    1. Relevant achievements of the project leader in providing leadership, co-ordination, management, monitoring and evaluation and the timely delivery of high quality outputs
    2. Relevant technical knowledge and experience of all key personnel (including proposed subcontractors) in the research area
    3. Relevant achievements in the delivery of commercial IP (if relevant)
    4. Ability of the project team to collaborate with the relevant research organisations and industry personnel to build on the research (national and international) already undertaken in this area
  4. Freedom to operate in regards to the provision of the project outputs to GRDC or a third party if required:
    1. Research Organisation intellectual property that is required to deliver the project outputs and any restrictions that may impact on the provision of project outputs to GRDC or a third party, if required
    2. Third party intellectual property that is required to deliver the project outputs and any restrictions that may impact on the provision of project outputs to GRDC or a third party, if required
    3. Other intellectual property that may impact upon the delivery of project outputs to GRDC or a third party
    4. The approach to be taken to overcome any restrictions identified
  5. The cost effectiveness and value for money of the tender response.
  6. Compliance with the tender requirements and draft Contract.
  7. Quality and effectiveness of risk controls.

Eligibility Criteria

  1. The Applicant must be a single legal entity or recognised firm of partners.
  2. The Applicant must be financially viable. For the purposes of this condition, “financially viable” means that the Tenderer has not had any of the following events occur in respect of it:
    1. a meeting of creditors being called or held within the past five years;
    2. the appointment of a liquidator, provisional liquidator or administrator within the past five years;
    3. the appointment of a controller (as defined in section 9 of the Corporations Act (2001)), or analogous person appointed, including in respect of any of its property within the past five years;
    4. a failure to comply with a statutory demand in respect of the payment of any debt;
    5. an inability to pay debts as they fall due or otherwise becoming insolvent;
    6. becoming incapable of managing its own affairs for any reason;
    7. taking any step resulting in insolvency under administration (as defined in section 9 of the Corporations Act 2001);
    8. entering into a compromise or arrangement with, or assignment for the benefit of, any of its creditors, or any analogous event.
  3. The Applicant and any proposed subcontractor must be compliant with the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012.
  4. The Applicant must include in its application details of any known circumstances that may give rise to an actual or potential Conflict of Interest with GRDC in responding to this procurement. The Applicant's response will be taken into account in the evaluation.


Applying for GRDC investments is now done using the GRDC Grains Investment Portal.  Once registered, users can visit the Portal anytime.

To register as a user, please visit

  • Click on the register button at the top right hand side.
  • Complete the Registration Form. Fill in all the fields: your email address, a password and the captcha. Your password must be alphanumeric with at least one special character (i.e. not a letter or number). Click register to continue the process.
  • Registration is confirmed by the system sending an email to you, with details to complete the registration process.
  • Once the registration process is complete, you can sign in and review all investments open for tender

Once you have located this investment, you can commence the application process by completing the details for each field available, until you reach “Submit Application” on the last page.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact Stephanie Meikle – Contracts Administrator West via email or use the online support function available.

Application evaluation

Applications will be considered by a selection committee and the successful applicant will be informed within four weeks of the application closing date.

Questions and Answers

Q1: With regard to the above Tender, can parties submit an application for part of the Tender, or do all applications need to address all aspects of the Tender?

A1: Applicants can apply for either part or all of the tender.

Q2: The project is focussed on the Western Region. Therefore, is the procurement only for applications from Western Australia?

A2: This work needs to be delivered in the Western Region, however there is not a requirement for the applicant to be based in WA.

Q3: Will only one tender be funded or is funding available for a number of different projects?

A3: The GRDC will negotiate with one research provider, however, given the complex nature of this investment and the wide range of skills required it is likely that this will require a collaborative approach that may include a number of public and private partnerships.

Q4: Is the project expected to cover all three nutrients N, P and K, or can the focus be on one or two of these? The same with the species. Can the focus be solely on wheat for example?

A4: The project will cover all three nutrients and will be focussed on wheat.