The extremes of weather that have impacted on Ireland over the past number of years have taken their toll on soil conditions and grass sward quality, country wide.

Dairy, cattle and sheep farmers the length and breadth of the island will be expected to increase output from forage over the coming years as the food industry – North and South – strives to secure enhanced export opportunities in the wake of a growing global population.  So it was against this background that Co Tyrone-based CAFRE dairying development advisor Trevor Alcorn gave Agriland some insights on how livestock farmers can maximise silage quality in 2014 and beyond. He started by stressing the importance of improving soil quality and the need for farmers to soil test regularly.

“Sampling should be undertaken between the months of October and November and should be repeated every three to four years,” he further explained.

“In the first instance, testing will shed light on the pH status of soils. The optimal pH value for local soils is in the range 6.0 to 6.5. However, we already know that many soils throughout Ireland have values that are much lower than this. Under these acid conditions, crop growth will be impacted negatively. But, in addition, the uptake of nutrients added in the form of fertilisers will also be considerably reduced.”

Trevor continued: “Adding lime is the only way to increase soil pH values. Significantly, the usage of agricultural lime in Ireland has dropped dramatically over the past three decades This trend must be reversed if our livestock sectors are to make better use of grass and silage.”

Trevor Alcorn went on to point out that fertiliser application rates should be based on soil test results. “Farmers should also make optimal use of slurry, in terms of its Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash content. Studies have confirmed that applying 3,000 gallons of cattle slurry per acre on to grassland has a monetary ranging from €60 in the autumn up to €75 in the spring.”

On the issue of selecting compound grassland fertiliser, Trevor made the point that most swards will benefit from an application of Sulphur.

The CAFRE advisor also highlighted the sward damage that has been created by compaction on many farms over recent years. This is a combined effect of farmers and contractors using heavier machinery and the very wet summers that have so characterised recent weather patterns in Ireland.

“Heavier stocking rates have also led to increased compaction problems in grazing areas,” he commented.

“Trials have shown that sub soiling in the autumn months will serve to improve drainage in fields that have been badly affected by compaction.  This will then allow the land to rest over the winter.”

Trevor Alcorn also highlighted the benefits of regular re-seeding and the need to implement effective weed control measures in all grassland areas.