If every acre of farmable land in Ireland was at its optimal soil pH value through liming, how much would Irish farmers save on chemical fertiliser?

I am encouraged to ask this question on the back of re-reading a Teagasc information leaflet, which confirmed that fertiliser nitrogen utilisation rates are reduced drastically once soil pH values drop much below 6.0.

This is an expensive enough loss to be contending with, if we assume a fertiliser price of around €250/t. But within a scenario that sees fertiliser being sold for €900/t, the obvious knock-on effect for production agriculture becomes breath-taking.

Liming Irish soils

For the record, 90% plus of grassland soils in this country are too acidic.

Looking to the future, production agriculture in this country must wean itself off chemical nitrogen (N). A back to basics approach should get us a long way down the road in meeting this objective.

Agricultural lime remains the cheapest and most effective soil conditioner to Irish farmers. All that’s required is a soil test to determine the amount of lime that needs to be applied to a particular field.

It all seems like a bit of a no-brainer to me. So why does it seem so difficult for Irish farmers to push ahead and commit to a realistic liming programme?

Many farmers will immediately point out that conacre lettings do not facilitate the implementation of long-term land improvement programmes.

And I hear what they say. The answer here is a very simple one – conacre ground should be excluded from the basic payment scheme (BPS).

Such a move on the part of the agriculture minister would soon galvanise the thinking of landowners up and down the country. It might also allow greater numbers of younger people to gain a foothold within farming.


But let’s stick with the fertiliser theme. I was totally impressed with the interview given by Co. Cork cereal grower Tom Barry on the most recent edition of the Tillage Edge podcast.

Put simply, he is able to put up to 4,000 gallons of slurry per acre out on to many of his grain crops. And to say that the approach is working comes under the heading of ‘total understatement’.

He regularly secures winter barley yields in excess of 4.5t/ac.

Ireland is awash with animal slurries of all kinds, not to mention the vast tonnages of farmyard manures that are to be found on every farm in the country.

All of this constitutes an amazing resource, which we must make much better use of.