Getting your soil to deliver its true potential

James Speers, Grassland AGRO with Roy Mclean, Ballyclare user of Grassland AGRO fertilisers.
James Speers, Grassland AGRO with Roy Mclean, Ballyclare user of Grassland AGRO fertilisers.

Northern Ireland has an enormous competitive advantage on global markets for dairy, beef and sheep products due to our potential to grow high quantities of highly nutritious grass.

This is reflected at farm level by the consistent and convincing message that the more feed (i.e. forage in the form of grass) that can be grown and utilised within the farm-gate, the more profitable and sustainable the farming system.

Good Soil Fertility is critical

Soil management is a key factor that will determine the farm’s overall potential to grow grass. In any year, weather is obviously critical. There will be good years and bad years when grass production on all farms will vary upwards or downwards. However, what will be consistent year on year is that well managed fields with fertile soils will outperform weaker fertile soils.

Soil fertility targets that every farm should aim for:

l Soil sample results for the whole farm

l Soil pH > 6.0 in every field

l Soil P & K in the optimum levels

l Apply slurry to maximise its value

l Use the correct fertiliser to balance the overall nutrient supply. Major nutrients (N, P & K) need to be balanced with all the essential nutrients including Sulphur (S), Magnesium (Mg), Calcium (Ca) and trace elements where required.

Assess the Farm’s

Fertiliser Programme

Doing the same thing with the same fertiliser products year on year just because it is what you have always done won’t improve the grass production potential of the farm if those products are not the right match for the farm’s given soil fertility.

Approximately 20% of the farms total variable costs on most farms are spent on fertilisers. Making sure this money is spent wisely on the right products to suit your soils and your farm, and applying them at the right rates and times, is vital to ensuring that this money delivers a return on overall productivity and profit. Properly fertilised soils will deliver the best results.

Allow the soil to work for you

Fertiliser on its own won’t grow all the grass you’ll need. In many cases more than half of the total nutrients used by grass come from the soil rather than from direct uptake of applied fertiliser. Soils contain large total amounts of nutrients. However, soils with low pH, poor biological activity and/or structure and drainage problems will release less of these nutrients to plants for uptake.

In these soils, more nutrients either get locked up or lost completely to water or air. Therefore, you are losing grass growth potential when this happens. The response to fertiliser being applied will also be dramatically reduced.

Fertiliser and Soil Fertility Management Options

Grassland AGRO offers a range of fertilisers that have enhanced capability over and above standard NPK fertilisers.

The range includes a number of fertiliser products that either combine individual or a combination of technologies that improve soil fertility and global nutrient supply to grass and crops. The products are not a substitute for focussing on the basic fundamental principles of soil pH, soil Index levels and slurry management.

However, in many cases, specific issues arise on farms where standard fertiliser and lime programmes may not be sufficient to deliver the best result possible. An enhanced fertiliser option may work well in this case.

Grassland AGRO’s team of dedicated Agronomy advisors are available to any farmer who wishes to explore these options, and to see how the overall fertilisation programme of the farm might be managed for maximum productivity and return.

Enhanced Fertilisers - What do they do?

The Grassland AGRO range of speciality fertiliser products are based on three principles technologies, namely Soil Conditioners, Phased Released Nitrogen, and Protected Phosphorus. Advantages of each technology are summarised in the figure shown. The technologies are dedicated to increasing the soil’s capability of releasing nutrients while also protecting and increasing the efficiencies of the nutrients applied in different fertiliser products.

Roy McLean, dairy farmer from Ballyclare has been using Grassland AGRO’s phased release Nitrogen product ‘Nutrigrass’ for four years now.

Roy explained: “In my experience Nutrigrass works well in conjunction with early spring slurry application. It is my observation that this combination produces a steady prolonged release of nutrients to the grass plant. The end result appears to be a higher dry matter grass that is less prone to the opposite extremes of early flowering or lodging which are evidence of nutrient mismanagement. All ground got 2cwt/ac last year, this year I will be aiming for 2.5cwt/ac on silage ground.”

Please contact your local Grassland AGRO agronomy specialist on free phone 08003891299 to discuss how these technologies can be used to improve the grass production and profitability on your farm.