Opportunities to increase farm efficiency and benefit the environment prompted dairy farmers Philip and Mark Anderson to investigate a more efficient system for fertiliser application.
When the list of items eligible for grant under Tranche 1 of Tier 1 of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme - Capital (FBIS - C) was released, the Anderson brothers carefully considered the needs and future sustainability of their farm.
They concluded that applying fertiliser in a more controlled manner would not only save costs by sowing it at the desired rate to only the ground that needed it, but would also prevent applying fertiliser to areas outside this such as waste ground and, importantly, waterways or environmentally sensitive areas.
Philip and Mark farm in partnership with their father, Robert, near Hamiltonsbawn on a dairy enterprise milking 300 cows.
Philip said: “Research at AFBI has stressed that milk from grass is one of the most effective ways of increasing margins in the dairy enterprise. To facilitate this we needed to buy fertiliser cost effectively, sow it at the optimum time, apply at the correct rate and location ensuring that there is no waste.”
To further this aim they purchased an advanced fertiliser sower under Tier 1 of the FBIS – C and it was put to effective use during the 2017 grass season.
Philip added: “This new sower, complete with weigh cells, GPS with tractor guidance to facilitate variable rate application and headland /border spreading capability ensures that fertiliser is not wasted by sowing the correct amount where it is needed and avoiding overlapping. Fertiliser is applied very precisely ensuring optimal grass growth and no waste.
“Importantly, it also brings benefits to the environment in that it can be set to avoid waterways and environmentally sensitive areas. There is less chance of pollution through nitrogen leaching as no areas of the field receive an over application of nutrient. Because of its capacity we can now sow wider and faster without the need to constantly return to the store for a refill thus saving on labour and fuel costs. Sowing can also be planned for the optimum time for example it is possible to sow immediately after a silage cut as there is no need to rely on grass growth as a guide.
“Another advantage is the ability to buy fertiliser in bulk. The actual weight of fertiliser in the sower was not important as the new equipment allowed for precise sowing of fertiliser in accordance with the farm nutrient management plan. Purchasing bulk fertiliser allowed the farm to make substantial savings over the purchase of bagged fertiliser in other years.”
The other aspect of dairy farming that has a very big effect on profit margins is fertility. Heat detection in high yielding cows is a very difficult task due to decreased activity in the modern dairy cow and sometimes a silent heat.
Mark Anderson explained: “Increased pregnancies mean more cows in milk and more herd replacements or heifers to sell in addition to facilitating herd management. We had previously purchased a heat detection system which uses pedometers to monitor cows in heat but we have since increased the herd and did not have enough pedometers for the additional cows. Recognising the benefits of heat detection, we took the opportunity afforded by the FBIS-C to purchase additional pedometers to ensure we had sufficient for all cows.”
DAERA launched the second tranche of Tier 1 of the FBIS–C on 12 December 2017. The scheme, which is delivered by Countryside Services Limited (CSL) will open for applications on January 4, 2018 and close at 4.00pm on February 2, 2018.
CSL will be hosting a series of information sessions in January. These will focus on the scheme requirements, how to apply and what is eligible under Tranche 2 of Tier 1.
More details are available by contacting Countryside Services on 0845 026 7535 or by emailing them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The FBIS-C is supported by DAERA and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.