A great starting point before growing any crop whether it is wheat, barley or grass is to soil sample the fields. Testing levels of phosphate, potash, magnesium and sulphur will give a better understanding of what additional nutrients are required. Additionally, soil sampling identifies the pH level, the optimum level is 6.5-7, as soil which is outwith this range may start to lock up nutrients meaning that they cannot be utilised by the crop. It is common practice for farmers to test only their most productive fields in order to achieve the best yields, however by sampling poorer fields farmers will have a full picture to enable them to improve pH levels across their holding.
Field mapping is a more advanced method which allows variable rate spreading of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime to create a balance across fields by specially applying nutrients where required. This allows farmers to reduce the large variations of nutrients within their fields, achieving consistency.
As the price of artificial fertiliser continues to rise, this in turn makes slurry and manure more valuable. Regular slurry testing is important to evaluate the requirement for artificial fertiliser. Slurry analysis will vary according to an animal’s diet, therefore the nutrients being applied to land will also vary. Correctly timed application of slurry helps to reduce the loss of nutrients through run-off or leaching.
Slurry additives are another way of getting more from slurry. The addition of an additive to the slurry during storage helps to break down the solids faster allowing nutrients to be readily available when applied to crops.
Finally, clover is a legume which works well with many grass rotations, helping to reduce the artificial nitrogen requirement. Studies have shown that clover can contribute as much as 100kg of nitrogen per hectare per year.
2022 brings many uncertainties for landowners as no one is able to predict whether crop prices will rise to cover the higher fertiliser costs. We encourage farmers to explore some of the options outlined above to help reduce expenditure during these unprecedented times.