The European Union has a target of a 20% reduction in chemical fertilisers by 2030. But for the foreseeable future, chemical fertilisers will continue to play an important role in forage production on Irish dairy farms.

The dairy open day at Teagasc Moorepark focused largely around increasing use of clover in swards on farms.

Managed correctly, clover swards can produce as much dry matter (dm)/ha as a non-clover sward.

On a recent visit to an organic dairy farm, where clover plays a key role in the production system, Agriland saw the farm had grown 15t of DM/ha on their silage fields, proving that correct clover management can produce forage for Irish dairy farms.

Chemical fertilisers

But, clover does have its drawbacks. Its production during early summer (May and June) is poor, so chemical nitrogen (N) on highly stocked farms is required to give swards that boost.

A lack of growth on highly stocked farms in May and June can be an issue and lead to increased meal feeding and the introduction of silage into cows’ diets.

This is something that no dairy farmer wants to do during what should be some of the best months for grass growth.

From May and June onwards, clover will begin to boost growth rates on farms. Clover swards will require about half the rate of N without a reduction in yields of DM/ ha.

To buy, or not to buy?

The problem with chemical fertiliser is how expensive it has become. Farmers purchasing fertiliser during the year would have noticed prices increasing.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has noted that N fertiliser prices increased by 11% over the past 12 months to the end of July, warning that this trend “appears set to continue to rise for the remainder of the year”.

A lot of farmers in previous years would of purchased chemical fertiliser at the back end of the year, as forward planning on many farms in reality is often used as a way of reducing the tax bill.

With prices being so high currently, the question is: Should you buy fertiliser this back end, or wait until spring?

The best option is to split the risk and purchase some now, and then some in spring.

Yara has reduced European ammonia production by 40%, which may impact prices and/or availability come spring.

Nobody is sure currently what the situation will be like come the new year, but it is probably better to be safe than sorry and purchase some now.