Is your soil working for you or against you?

Chloe Kyle Grassland AGRO and David Stewart, J.A. Stewart & Sons, appreciate the quality of the late autumn grazing for the Stewart dairy herd in Kircubbin.
Chloe Kyle Grassland AGRO and David Stewart, J.A. Stewart & Sons, appreciate the quality of the late autumn grazing for the Stewart dairy herd in Kircubbin.

The productivity of every farm in Ireland is dependent on the potential of the soils in each field to grow grass and crops.

Soil quality is something that is often taken for granted, resulting in problems arising where inadequate care and attention is paid to maintaining the soil’s ability to provide the core functions that it must perform for grass and crops. These functions include adequate soil structure and biological activity, good plant rooting, and optimised soil pH and nutrient supply.

Damage to soil quality can occur over time where soils get ill-treated by machinery or grazing animals in poor conditions causing compaction and structural damage, and where fertiliser and lime programmes are not tailored to the needs of the soil and the grass sward or crop being grown. Without regular inputs of lime, the soil pH will be depleted, with knock-on effects of reducing the availability of phosphorus, nitrogen and other nutrients.

Applying a soil conditioner is a good way of improving the health and condition of the soil and overcome the damage caused by everyday wear and tear that farming imposes on the soil.

How does “Physiolith” soil conditioner work? Physiolith from Grassland AGRO is a unique product that is designed to condition the soil. It has two key ingredients that provide benefits.

It contains a marine calcium material called “Calcimer®”, that acts as a source of calcium for both soil structural improvement and plant nutrition. It also works as a soil surface pH stabiliser to maintain the soil pH at optimum levels and counteract the naturally acidification of soil that will occur due to rainfall, crop growth and fertiliser application. By maintaining and optimising the soil pH, the availability of nutrients in the soil is maximised. The highly porous nature of Calcimer® makes it more reactive than conventional liming materials, and the porous structure also provides micro-sites for beneficial soil bacteria to flourish.

The other key ingredient of Physiolith is a plant root stimulant, extracted from seaweed.

This stimulant causes the plant to send out more roots and root hairs, helping the grass or crop to exploit a greater volume of the soil for water and nutrient uptake. It also gives the plant better anchorage in the soil, resulting in sod-pull during grazing.

What will Physiolith do for my farm? The benefits of Physiolith span right across the whole Soil grass animal chain on the farm to help improve all levels of farm productivity.

Benefits of Physiolith 

l Grass Quality: Nutritionally superior grass with higher Calcium and Phosphorus contents. More consistent grass growth and quality across the growing season. Better grass means better animal performance.

l Growing and utilising more grass: Higher grass yields, and healthier swards with faster recovery after grazing. More grass utilised means a cheaper feed bill for the farm per unit of output.

l Source of Calcium: Calcium is an essential plant nutrient, and also infers soil structural benefits. Physiolith also acts a balancer for high soil magnesium to loosen the soil structure where excess magnesium is a problem.

l Soil Surface pH regulation: With higher solubility and reactivity than standard (carbonate) lime, Physiolith helps to maintain soil pH at the optimum levels.

l More Nutrient Uptake: Optimising soil pH increases the nutrient availability in the soil and the efficiency of fertilisers. The root stimulant in Physiolith results in more nutrient uptake by the plant roots. Physiolith is also a good natural source of trace elements that helps give a more complete overall nutritional balance to the soil and the grass. Physiolith also accelerates the breakdown of soil organic matter and slurry to release nutrients to the grass roots.

l Better Overall Soil Health: Optimised soil pH provides a better environment for soil biology and earthworms to function. The porous nature of Calcimer® also provides a unique habitat for essential soil bacteria and fungi to flourish in the soil.

Is Physiolith unique? Yes. No other product on the market has the combined benefits that Calcimer and the plant root stimulant give in a single product. By adding to the overall nutrient availability and uptake from the soil, Physiolith also offers benefits of increasing the uptake of N and P utilised for grass growth without having to apply additional N and P fertilisers above current levels, and which may be restricted on the farm under Nitrates limits.

Does Physiolith work? Yes. On-farm trials in grazed pasture in 2015 proved that physiolith has beneficial effects on both grass yield and quality. Yield benefits of 1.6 t/ha of extra grass dry matter were measured on paddocks that received 2 bags/acre of Physiolith compared with paddocks that received no Physiolith. The paddocks that received Physiolith also had higher Calcium and Phosphorus contents in the grass, thus showing the potential of Physiolith to boost nutrient uptake from the soil due to the increased rooting.

For best results, apply Physiolith , depending on soil status, anywhere between 2 to 4 bags (100 to 200kg) per acre in spring or autumn. Application at re-seeding also has benefits of stimulating early rooting of the newly established grass sward.

J. A. Stewart & Sons have been spreading Physiolith for many years on their farm at Ballycranmore Rd, Kircubbin. The Stewart family are also very well acquainted with the benefits of using a soil conditioning programme on a regular basis. Currently milking 200 cow’s milk yield has risen from 5,000lts per cow in 2011, (meal per cow 1.2 tonnes) to 6,500lts per cow in 2016 (meal per cow 1.3 tonnes). Milk from forage is now 4,000lts per cow with Protein at 3.64 and Butterfat at 4.32 during 2016.

With normal applications of slurry being applied with a dribble bar to grazing and silage ground, in conjunction with a soil conditioner programme, fertiliser usage on the silage ground has reduced by 28 tonnes of Nitrogen in any year. Grazing ground has also had a reduction in Nitrogen applied during the season. Grazing is now much cleaner and dung pats are disappearing much quicker due to an excellent level of worm life. Davy Stewart concluded on a favourite motto of his: “Good soil structure grows good grass and in turn brings in a good crop of silage.”

For more information on Physiolith, visit the Grassland AGRO website, or contact one of Grassland AGRO’s specialist Agronomy Advisors.