What are the 3 steps involved to improving my soil performance?
All dairy farmers can start towards improving grass yields next season by introducing the cost-effective, three step Soil Improvement Programme (SIP) with immediate effect, says soil specialist, Dr. David Atherton.
“Following one of the toughest grass growing seasons ever, farmers now have time to review their management systems going forward. SIP is a sustainable programme designed to improve both grass yield and quality which in turn is key for productivity and animal health – and it all starts with the soil.
“This programme is not just about addressing the soil’s nutrient status, but also soil health, which in the first instance means ensuring that the soil is fully aerated – the essential kick start towards improving drainage, encouraging root development and stimulating soil life.”
The SIP, developed in partnership between Devenish, and Thompson and Joseph comprises the following three steps, explains Dr. Atherton.
Aeration. Compaction can limit grass yields by up to 40%, whilst creating mineral imbalances within forage and the potential for nutrient run-off. Aerating in spring and autumn, when the soil is dry, helps to break up compaction and improve air penetration.
Rebalancing the soil’s nutrient status. Soil analysis helps to identify and correct any nutrient deficiencies in the soil.
Achieving the correct calcium-magnesium balance is particularly important for creating a stable soil structure in terms of allowing air penetration, providing an environment for soil life to flourish, improving drainage and increasing resistance to soil compaction.
Aerobically digesting slurry. Introducing Digest-It, a biological additive has been shown in trials to improve the slurry’s fertiliser nutrient value resulting in higher grass yields, and consequently increasing the cost effectiveness of slurry by reducing the need for inorganic fertiliser.
The additive reduces crusting and the energy required to agitate or pump slurry. It also reduces smell and improves soil life and reduces the environmental impact of slurry. The additive is approved for organic use.
Implementing the three steps
Martin Heaney, from Navan, introduced the Soil Improvement Programme four years ago.
“Adopting SIP has enabled us to improve both grass silage and grazing platform yield by 13% – the former to 12t DM/ha in three cuts; and grazing to 13.8t DM/ha, which has enabled stocking rate to increase,” Martin said.
“Back in 2014, we thought our cows should be getting more out of the grass; in particular in spring and autumn. We considered there was an issue with the soil, this area has naturally high molybdenum levels which in turn is a marker of poor soil health and has the potential to lock up copper, so we thought we should do something about it.
“Following a farm visit by Devenish’s Ciaran Conway and David Atherton, we decided to try something different and introduce SIP. We’ve implemented all three aspects – soil aeration, soil analysis and adding Digest-It – and it’s worked.
“Aeration has been a big help towards reducing compaction – we found a pan 6-7in down. Quite simply getting more air into the soil has encouraged more soil life, including plenty of worms which has to be good.
“Frequent soil analysis has enabled us to go on to correct the nutrient imbalance; molybdenum levels have fallen by 46% following aeration and applying Gypsum as part of SIP.
“Finally, we are definitely getting more nutrient value out of the slurry – introducing the biological additive has reduced agitation time by between 30% and 40%, and I think has improved its nitrogen availability as we’ve been able to half nitrogen application after each of the three cuts from 80 units/ha to 40 units/ha.
Another bonus has to be there’s now little, if any, smell when we’re spreading, so the neighbours are much happier.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that SIP is a sustainable programme that all dairy farmers can adopt and achieve a significant return on investment.”
For more information
For further information on the Soil Improvement Programme, visit: http://soilimprovement.ie/.