Developing a soil health plan for farms is possibly one of the most important things a farmer can do over the winter months.
2022 was a year when farmers experienced a number of firsts, with milk price over 50c/L and input costs reaching new heights.
While many farms have a plan in place to improve soil health/fertility many do not, and this could potentially be costing them a significant amount of money.
Incorrect soil pH has a major impact on chemical fertiliser utilisation and thus, farmers may be wasting money by spreading it.
Soil pH Nitrogen (N) utilisation Phosphorus (P) utilisation Potassium (K) utilisation Percentage of fertiliser wasted 5.0-5.5 77% 48% 77% 32% 5.5-6.0 85% 52% 100% 21% 6.0-6.5 100% 100% 100% 0%
2022 has highlighted the importance of having soil fertility in ideal conditions to ensure that maximum benefit can be obtained.
Soil fertility is important to obtain maximum benefit from chemical fertilisers and when reseeding, particularly when clover is being used in the mix.
For many farms, the only time that it may actually be suitable to take soil samples in over Christmas period.
Therefore, it is important to begin planning now and ensure that the samples are taken at the ideal time.
A drop in soil pH from 6.5 to 5.5 reduces herbage production by between 30-40% and also leads to a great reduced N use efficiency (as outlined in the table above).
The price of lime has remained fairly stable in recent years compared to chemical fertilisers.
For what is a reasonably priced investment, it offers a good return in investment in the form of an increase in herbage production and N-use efficiency.
Most importantly, soil samples allow enable farmers to determine the current standard of soil fertility and how it can be improved – if needed.
Speaking with an advisor can also help farmers develop a chemical fertiliser plan and ensure that the correct products are being used.
Improving soil fertility is a slow process; it is not something that will be corrected overnight, but the sooner farms start correcting soil fertility the sooner that results will be seen.