Steps you can take to reduce fertiliser costs

With fertiliser prices at an all-time high, now's the time to get smart about your farm's needs
Steps you can take to reduce fertiliser costs

Use soil sample test results taken within the last three years as the basis for nutrient management decisions.

This year, as fertiliser prices reach record levels, it has never been as important to ensure we are making the best use of fertilisers and slurry on our farms. There are a number of steps we can take to control and reduce the impact of high fertiliser prices inside our farm gate. Here we look at some tips to reduce fertiliser costs.

Do I have recent soil samples?

Use soil sample test results taken within the last three years as the basis for nutrient management decisions. If recent soil sample results are not available take soil samples now and send for analysis. Consult your advisor to prepare a fertiliser plan for your farm based on the soil sample test results. Use the results to match the correct fertiliser products and application rates to your soil nutrient needs and make significant savings where soil test results indicate index 4 soils and that no further nutrients are required.

Spread lime 

Lime is the key component of soil fertility and should be applied when soil pH is low. Lime increases nutrient utilisation from fertilisers and organic manures and will also help release additional mineralised N and P from soil reserves. Apply lime year round on grazing ground and after the 2nd cut on silage ground.

Can I manage my slurry better?

Slurry is a valuable nutrient source and targeting slurry applications to fields with the highest P and K requirement will help save money on the farm. Silage fields typically have the highest nutrient requirement and cattle slurry can be used to deliver sufficient P and K to silage ground. Apply at a rate of 2,500 gals/acre, this will supply 23 units of nitrogen/acre. Use low emission slurry spreading methods to increase the N utilisation from slurry.

P and K holiday 

This is no year to address soil fertility deficits by using chemical compound fertilisers. The main areas to prioritise for chemical P and K application this year should be silage ground that has been identified as having low P and K status and will struggle to produce a satisfactory yield without the chemical P and K in addition to what has been supplied by slurry.

Complete a fodder budget 

Know your silage needs so you can plan the area required to close for silage and budget fertiliser requirements.

Reduce N application rates 

Teagasc advise that a small reduction (from 46 units N/acre to 40 units N/acre) in March chemical N application rates should not substantially reduce grass growth. Such a reduction can reduce annual chemical N by 3% according to Teagasc. Teagasc also advise a reduction in summer N application rates on highly stocked farms to 25 kg N/ha (20 units N/acre).

Complete a fertiliser budget 

Complete a budget outlining the type and quantity of fertiliser used in 2021 and a budget for 2022. It will identify where costs will be for the year ahead and put a focus on identifying where savings can be made. Try and reduce the level of nitrogen applied to 80 or 85% of the normal annual requirement. However, there are a number of important factors to keep in mind to ensure animal performance is not compromised as a result. Firstly, match grass supply with demand, there is no point in growing excess grass this year. Prioritise nitrogen applications to the swards that will deliver the best response. These are typically reseeded swards or swards with a high perennial ryegrass content growing on soils with an adequate pH and P and K index. Maintain regular fertiliser applications and reduce the amount of N in each application rather than eliminating applications.

Do I need to cull or sell underperforming animals?

With the higher cost of growing grass, more focus should be placed on keeping the farm stocking rate under control. Underperforming animals that lower the profitability of the system may need to be culled or sold. If extra grass is grown this can be removed as baled silage which will be very valuable next winter.

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Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land


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