Finding the right plan for every farm

Every farmer in Ireland must have a fertiliser plan, which will be looked for by inspectors from the Department of Agriculture.

When was the last time you looked at your plan? Do you understand your nitrogen and phosphorus recommendations? If not, you run the risk of exceeding your nitrates limits, or wasting hundreds if not thousands of euro on unnecessary fertiliser, or under-applying fertiliser and causing crop deficiencies.

When a fertiliser plan is developed for your farm, it is tailored to your soils and farming system, and according to which of the following four groups you fall into:

* By now, derogation farmers will have received their derogation fertiliser plan for 2012. As a derogation farmer, do you know what the fertiliser limits for your farm are?

* REPS farmers have limits on the chemical N and P that can be used each year. Do you have a shopping list of fertilisers that can be bought, and where they can be spread?

* In general, farmers who have left REPS 3 are not allowed to spread as much chemical P as when they were in REPS 3. Have you checked this out with your adviser?

* AEOS 2011 applicants had to soil sample this spring, and these samples will form part of a fertiliser plan that must be nitrates compliant.

If you are unsure of your fertiliser limits speak to your adviser, to greatly reduce the risk of costly mistakes.

For example, take a farmer who is recommended to spread 10 units of phosphorus per acre on a 15-acre field.

This equates to one bag of 10:10:20 per acre.

If, instead, this farmer decided to apply 1.5 bags per acre, at current prices, he would waste €183.75 on fertiliser on this field alone (based on a price of €490/t for 10:10:20). He also runs the risk of exceeding fertiliser limits.

The demand for nutrients and for better fertiliser management on farms is set to increase as farmers gear up to meet Food Harvest 2020 targets.

Dairy and beef farmers in particular will need to increase farm nutrient efficiency if these targets are to be achieved. By developing and using a fertiliser management plan, farmers can maximise the return from on-farm and off-farm nutrients, and also help to protect the environment.

On farms in six agricultural catchments around Ireland, fertiliser plans based on colour-coded farm maps have been made available.

These maps can show information such as soil test results and fertiliser advice.

Farmers find nutrient management advice easier to follow when it is presented on maps. This technology also allows the evaluation of multiple years of field information at once on a map, enabling farmers and advisers to track changes in soil fertility and fertiliser management.

In each of these catchments, day-to-day farm management events (such as fertiliser and slurry applications) are being recorded in a nutrient data management system, which can help to achieve better distribution of available nutrients across the farm, according to soil nutrient status and production targets.

This will lead to cost saving on fertilisers, reduce fertiliser wastage, and optimise production levels over the entire farm.


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