Spread­ing fer­tiliser in Feb­ru­ary can help slash win­ter feed costs

Irish Independent - Farming - - FARM OUR - JOE KELLE­HER

Gin Feb­ru­ary, we will grow 9t of grass dry mat­ter, which has the equiv­a­lent vol­ume of feed of ap­prox­i­mately 45 bales of silage (ex­cept of much higher qual­ity). One price I saw this week was for Urea at €345/t so this equates to €690 for the 2t, which equates to €15/bale. You won’t find too many bales around the coun­try at this price.

Urea is gen­er­ally the prod­uct of choice for spring­time ni­tro­gen for two rea­sons; 1. It is the cheap­est source of Ni­tro­gen avail­able and 2. Its abil­ity to bind with soil is bet­ter than CAN based prod­ucts in times of high rain­fall.

Of course hav­ing the grass out­side in the field isn’t of much ben­e­fit if we don’t get out to eat it. The tar­get is to graze 30pc of the farm in Feb­ru­ary and 60pc in March.

This equates to 1pc of the farm grazed per day in Feb­ru­ary and 2pc in March.

This is key to hav­ing suf­fi­cient grass on the farm at the be­gin­ning of April, as this al­lows the grass two months to grow a suf­fi­cient cover. For those on heav­ier soils, we need to con­stantly as­sess the drier pad­docks on the farm to see when they are suit­able to al­low cows out for three hours graz­ing. Tri­als have shown that cows can eat 90pc of their daily in­take in two bouts of graz­ing last­ing three hours each.

Na­tional statis­tics show that ap­prox­i­mately 90pc of our soils na­tion­ally are de­fi­cient in terms of soil fer­til­ity.

Many ar­gue that this has oc­curred as a re­sult of re­stric­tions ap­plied un­der REPS and other schemes, and this is prob­a­bly true on some in­di­vid­ual farms, but the re­al­ity is that it is no co­in­ci­dence that as the price of com­pound fer­tilis­ers were in­creas­ing over the past 10 years, their us­age was fall­ing. This, I sus­pect is the main rea­son why our na­tional soil fer­til­ity has re­mained low.

Amend­ments

One tonne of 18.6.12 can be bought to­day for €350/t ap­prox­i­mately. While this is €50 dearer than last year, we should re­mem­ber that this fig­ure was nearer to €400 two years ago, so it still rep­re­sents value for money at €350. Un­der the new amend­ments to the Ni­trate reg­u­la­tions (in place since Jan­uary of this year), farm­ers in with a stock­ing rate of greater than 130kgs/ha can avail of higher phos­pho­rus (P) and potas­sium (K) al­lowances.

For a farmer who has all his/ her soils at in­dex 1 for P and K, they are now per­mit­ted to spread ap­prox­i­mately 40 units of phos­pho­rus/acre which is a sub­stan­tial in­crease on the pre­vi­ous al­lowance.

It should be noted that that a new fer­tiliser plan has to sub­mit­ted to the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture be­fore March 31 to avail of this in­crease, which in many cases may in­volve tak­ing new soil sam­ples.

With this in mind, ta­ble 1 shows how spread­ing 40 units of P/acre can be achieved in prac­tice.

Sul­phur is an­other el­e­ment that has to be re­mem­bered, par­tic­u­larly on sandy or free drain­ing soils. Sul­phur is es­sen­tial for the for­ma­tion of amino acids, the build­ing blocks for pro­teins which are needed for growth and de­vel­op­ment in plants and an­i­mals. It is also re­quired to con­vert Ni­tro­gen to plant dry mat­ter.

As grass grows, both S and Ni­tro­gen are used to­gether so an S de­fi­ciency will de­crease ni­tro­gen use ef­fi­ciency and so re­duce yield.

It is rec­om­mended to ap­ply 16 units of sul­phur an­nu­ally to graz­ing swards.

Joe Kelle­her is a Tea­gasc ad­vi­sor based in New­cas­tle West, Co Lim­er­ick

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