New researchby AgResearch will get down to the grass roots, or more accurately, clover roots of New Zealand farming.
A $7 million programme aims to increase pasture production and profitability by improving the ability of legumes such as white clover to fix nitrogen in the soil.
Bacteria called rhizobia, which live in the nodules on clover roots, are an essential part of that nitrogen-fixing process.
The natural nitrogen supplied into pastures in this way has been referred to as New Zealand's competitive advantage in farm production.
Lead scientist Steve Wakelin said they aim to boost that by identifying the best rhizobia strains to combine with different varieties of clover and other legumes.
"So this free nitrogen that we're getting into our pastures is equivalent of about $2 billion worth of urea if we had to put it on New Zealand annually, we're getting it free from the rhizobia and clovers that are in our pastures."
Dr Wakelin said they aim to maintain that competitive advantage by increasing the amount of nitrogen that's being supplied into the farming systems.
He said they also want to ensure that the systems are economically and environmentally sustainable.