I totally buy into the principle of Irish farmers spreading slurry on a calendar basis. It’s the only approach that makes sense.

But, let’s face it – the real issue with slurry is that farmers truly loathe the stuff. Countless hours are spent every winter scraping it up. And there’s the spreading of it.

All of this might change in the spring of 2022 with fertiliser prices heading for €700 or possibly €800/t.

If we get to that stage, farmers will, hopefully, realise the true value of what they have spent all of the previous winter storing up in lagoons and underground tanks. But this is for the future.

Nitrates Action Programme

In the meantime we have the response of the Beef Plan Movement to the latest Nitrates Action Programme.

In essence, I feel it is a veiled call to bring us back to the ‘good old / bad old’ days when farmers could put slurry out, in essence, every day of the year.

Back then contractors and farmers would be seen, regularly enough, putting slurry out over a roadside hedge using a boom in the deep winter.

It was an approach to slurry management that didn’t work then and it’s not fit for purpose now.

Beef Plan Movement talks about the improvements in weather forecasting that have become a reality over recent years. In my opinion, this is an absolute side show.

Slurry must only be out on to ground at those times in the year when plants are actively growing on the back of rising soil temperatures. And, in this regard, we must be guided by the available science.

Grass growth and slurry

Grass growth takes off in the early spring. And winter cereals need a pick-me-up of potash and phosphate at time of planting.

These, to me, are the bookends within which a feasible slurry spreading policy for Irish agriculture can be developed. 

Significantly, Beef Plan makes absolutely no reference to the slurry storage capacity on Irish farms within its most recent statement. This is the true weak link in the chain, where water quality is concerned. Every farm should have at least six months’ slurry capacity.

Furthermore, slurry storage facilities should be checked regularly and if found not to be up to the required level, the matter should be assessed by Bord Bia in the context of its Origin Green criteria.

Slurry is one of the greatest resources available to Irish farmers. But it must be put to best use. This means getting away from the ‘waste management’ mentality that so permeates Irish agriculture.  

Farmers are always being told that they must strive to make best use of the assets that are created within their businesses. Slurry stands out, front and centre, as being one of these resources.