Wet weather could cause problems as spreading starts

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Today is the first day of the 2017 slurry spreading season in Northern Ireland. But given the rain of Monday evening past, it may well be a few days yet before farmers and contractors get the chance to get out into the fields.

Given my job, I have the privilege of attending numerous farmers’ meeting during the winter months. And, invariably, when it comes to question time at these events, the ubiquitous issue of the slurry ban comes up. There will always be someone in the audience keen to push the view that the thinking behind the introduction of the ‘closed season’ on slurry spreading was wrong. So here’s my considered view on the matter.

I don’t care how dry the weather is during December and January. The reality is that soil temperatures are so low at that time of the year that the effect on plant growth of spreading slurry will, to all intents and purposes, be zero.

By law every farmer should have at least six months’ slurry storage capacity. So where’s the problem in waiting for February and spreading slurry at a time of year when it will deliver a meaningful plant growth response?

After all, slurry is one of the most valuable fertilisers available to farmers in Northern Ireland. So it is a resource that must be used in ways that will deliver the best results for farm businesses. Margins are tight enough within agriculture at the present time. And, as a consequence, farmers must make best use of every input available to them.

Given the recent weakening of Sterling against the Euro, bagged fertiliser prices are going through the roof. Having to deal with expensive inputs is not a news story for agriculture in Northern Ireland. So given these circumstances, why do so many producers underplay a potent resource, which comes at a ‘zero cost’?