Sustainability: Developing a bespoke fertiliser plan to suit your farm

Grassland Agro is committed to helping farmers meet the environmental challenges faced by agricultural industry by offering a free fertiliser planning service. There are considerable improvements that can be made in soil fertility.

Recent Teagasc research shows that 90% of fields sampled in Ireland are sub-optimal for either pH, phosphorus (P) or potassium (K) or all combined. Improving soil fertility would allow for a reduction on the reliance of farmers on chemical fertiliser and improve overall productivity on farm.

Each farm is ‘different’

To tackle the challenge, Grassland Agro has recruited and trained a team of agronomists to deliver on-farm fertiliser advice and plans.

The fertiliser planning programme was developed by Dr. Stan Lalor using the latest research available from Teagasc Nutrient advice guidelines and specifies the rate, timing and product to be applied on each field in a straight-forward template.

The old adage that each farm is ‘different’ is as true today as when it was first uttered in terms of different stocking rates, soil types, systems and objectives.

Grassland Agro has a team of 24 professionally trained agronomists covering the entire island of Ireland. The agronomy team receive in-house training from Dr. Stan Lalor, Dr. P.J O’Connor and Dr. John O’Loughlin.

Each member of the agronomy team also completes the Teagasc Crop Nutrition Management course delivered by Dr. David Wall and Mark Plunkett.

Sustainability

The Grassland Agro fertiliser plan tackles the three key areas of sustainability.

1. Economic

Each farm is unique, and often there can be variation in pH, P and K status within a farm. The fertiliser bill is one of the largest variable costs on farm and warrants careful analysis. By targeting each of these issues, as opposed to a blanket treatment, costs can be considerably reduced.

The lost production of sub-optimal soil fertility or pH will also be calculated for a farmer and each round of fertiliser will be included in the plan and costed so that a farmer can do a cash-flow budget for the year.

2. Environmental

Nitrogen (N) inputs can be reduced by rectifying pH, and sub-optimal soil fertility. N use efficiency is impacted by sub-optimal soil fertility namely P, K and lack of sulphur (S).

The over application of nutrients on areas where soil fertility is high can also have negative environmental impacts and using the Grassland Agro fertiliser planning service will allow for a more informed decision to be made.

3. Social

The bug bear of many Irish farmers is the increasing requirement to defend their “social licence to farm”.

Irish agriculture is world class with respect to carbon intensity in the area of dairy, beef, lamb and grain production. It is something we should celebrate and be proud of.

However, the advantage of this component is that it challenges all Irish farmers to further increase efficiency and increase profitability while maintaining the environment in which we live.

Soil sampling

The first step in devising a fertiliser plan is to have soil samples available. Now is the optimal time to conduct soil sampling. The Grassland Agro agronomy team can collect your samples or assist in soil sampling if you do not have up-to-date samples.

If you have soil samples and would like to get a free fertiliser plan by Grassland Agro, then please email your soil test results to: [email protected].

The correct method of soil sampling is outlined in the video (below).

Grassland Agro fertiliser plan

When the results are received, Grassland Agro can build a fertiliser plan bespoke to each farm and each field.

Grassland Agro fertiliser plans are done on farm with the farmer with his/her budget, soil type, soil samples, production requirement and system in mind. The fertiliser plan is designed to be as simple as possible, while considering the challenges of a farm and the requirements of the farmer.

When developing a soil fertility programme, fields are grouped together based on the soil results. This means that fields with a low P or K index can be targeted to rectify the issue.

Additionally, fields could be low in P and high in K or vice versa. This leads to the question of why we would treat all the fields on a farm with the same treatment?

Considerable savings can be made by optimising the rate, timing and fertiliser choice on farm. The organic supply of P and K on the farm (slurry/ FYM) can be tested for the farmer to analyse the NPK content.

After the slurry is sampled, the chemical fertiliser can be balanced and targeted to fields where it would be of most benefit. The fertiliser plan will also outline a liming programme for each paddock or set of fields based on the soil sampling programme.

Grassland Agro’s agronomy team can also assess soil structure and a soil health test can be conducted. The farmer will also have the support of Grassland Agro throughout the growing season, as weather or growth rate could cause changes to the fertiliser plan.

Andrew Claxton, a dairy farmer in Co. Waterford, who has been working with Grassland Agro, details his story in the video (below).

Andrew has seen improvements in his soil fertility and grass production and has saved money on his fertiliser bill.

If you have soil samples and would like to get a free fertiliser plan by Grassland Agro, then click here for more information