It’s nearly time for stock to go out to grass

Journalists Brian McCalden and Richard Halleron pictured at the Guild Of Agricultural Journalists breakfast hosted by the Northern Bank at the Lyric Therate. PICTURE KEVIN MCAULEY PHOTOGRAPHY MULTIMEDIA
Journalists Brian McCalden and Richard Halleron pictured at the Guild Of Agricultural Journalists breakfast hosted by the Northern Bank at the Lyric Therate. PICTURE KEVIN MCAULEY PHOTOGRAPHY MULTIMEDIA

It’s hard to believe that March is almost with us and the prospect of getting stock out to grass and silage made.

So the message is a simple one: find out how productive your grassland really is and if it is not up to scratch, then take the appropriate steps to fix it.

Most farmers take for granted that grass grows well in this part of the world. However, few realise just how unproductive many of our grassland swards actually are. This concerning state of affairs confirms the huge potential there is to increase grass output across Northern Ireland. However, it also points to the vast sums of money farmers are wasting by not getting the optimum response from the fertilisers they are sowing, particularly Nitrogen. In silage situations there is also a growing concern about the K status of our soils and the fact that the amounts of Potash spread – by way of both slurry and bagged fertiliser – are well below the levels required to deliver the grass yields farmers expect to achieve.

In terms of remedying our growing grassland deficit both CAFRE and Teagasc are now pointing to the need for farmers to actively address drainage and issues relating to sward composition. But they also make the point that such steps are only worth taking if future sward management is up to scratch.

But it turns out that the biggest obstacle in the way to optimum fertiliser utilisation is soil pH. When this figure drops below 6.0, the fall off in crop nutrient uptake is dramatic. Significantly, the Nitrates Directive is forcing growing numbers of farmers to soil sample. And it has been through this work that the full horror story regarding the extremely acidic nature of many local soils is now unfolding.

So the take home message to every local farmer is a very simple one: get your soil tested before spreading any fertiliser this Spring and use the results obtained to develop a meaningful fertiliser and liming programme. The few bob that it takes to have this done could well save you thousands of pounds during the years ahead!