I can’t un­der­stand the huge jump in price of fer­tilis­ers

Irish Independent - Farming - - FARM OUR - HE­LEN HAR­RIS

WITH the win­try weather, we have plenty of time to get our Ni­trates Plan fin­ished and soil sam­ples out. We need to study them for the up­com­ing sea­son to see what’s needed where.

As we are tak­ing fer­til­ity from the land, in the form of grain and straw, we are very aware that we also need to give back to the soil.

We have tried to in­crease the fer­til­ity year on year. Ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, our soil sam­ples used to be valid for five years, now that is back to four, and the size of sam­ple has re­duced from eight to five hectares per sam­ple.

Even with this as our guide­line, we pre­fer to do more. How else are you go­ing to see how the soil is chang­ing? We soil sam­pled the whole farm last year, but to see what the pH is now and a quick overview, we take ran­dom sam­ples across the farm to see what di­rec­tion it is go­ing.

In gen­eral, our pH is quite high, from about 6.6 to 7.8. This works well for tillage, and if we find that our pH is get­ting any higher, we will use Urea rather that CAN to help bring it down slightly.

It’s much eas­ier to bring up the pH with lime than bring it down. This year, we also have to in­clude some of the fer­tiliser value of the chicken lit­ter that we spread last year.

This could be a tricky one, as we had a drought dur­ing the sum­mer and I won­der how much of the chicken lit­ter was taken up and if it wasn’t, will it be avail­able this year? Have we lost it or is it there for this year’s crop?

The win­ter bar­ley is start­ing to go slightly yel­low, although most of the crops have come through the win­ter look­ing re­mark­ably well and thick. When should we go out this year with the fer­tiliser?

Should we go ear­lier than nor­mal, con­sid­er­ing how ad­vanced and thick it looks or should we wait?

Will the chicken lit­ter give us a slightly longer win­dow, as we should have some left over from last year? Or if we go early, will it be wasted as the plant may not take it up if the weather turns cold?

The other ma­jor fac­tor for us to con­sider when ap­ply­ing fer­tiliser is that this year, we didn’t chop and in­cor­po­rate the straw. We baled and re­moved it all. The P value of win­ter wheat straw is about 4.4kg per ha and win­ter bar­ley straw is 4kg per ha.

The K value of wheaten straw is about 56kg per ha and 51kg per ha for win­ter bar­ley (Tea­gasc). As we took this from the soil this year, we need to com­pen­sate for this and take it into ac­count when do­ing our ni­trates plan.

But by far the sin­gle big­gest fac­tor this year has turned out to be the cost, with com­pounds go­ing up as much as €20 per tonne and ni­tro­gen over €50 per tonne. I can’t for the life of me un­der­stand why the huge jump in price. The cost of the raw ma­te­rial, nat­u­ral gas, has fallen since last year, so why the in­crease? Is it just be­cause they can?

It is also a good time to look at al­ter­na­tives, es­pe­cially of or­ganic ma­nures. It is get­ting more and more ob­vi­ous that we need to feed the bugs and bac­te­ria as well as the crops. This is where the green ma­nures and mush­room com­post come in. Although there is still some debate about their fer­tiliser value, they are with­out doubt very valu­able soil con­di­tion­ers, which has a value, too.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how the long-term use of chicken lit­ter and min-till will ef­fect the soil. I felt that both def­i­nitely helped the win­ter crops dur­ing the drought last year. Would it do the same if it was a wet year? Should we be look­ing at no till for the fu­ture?

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