Don't underestimate the value of soil tests
Talking with dairy farmers over the last month they agree that growing as much grass as possible is the best opportunity to reduce on-farm costs this year. Fertile soils are critical to optimise grass growth on your farm. Dr Stan Lawlor presented an excellent paper on soil fertility at the recent Positive Farmers Conference.
Fertiliser costs account for 20pc of variable costs on dairy farms. This is good value for money, but only if used correctly. It is vital that fertiliser is managed efficiently, allowing maximum return in grass growth and milk production.
Teagasc recently published a report showing a national and regional breakdown of soil fertility trends. While some stabilisation of soil fertility levels has occurred since 2012, only 11pc of soils tested achieved good overall fertility in 2014.
This means that almost 90pc of soils are deficient in at least one of the three critical criteria that contribute to soil fertility and optimal grass production. These are soil pH, phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Where any of these are deficient you are not getting the full benefit from applying the other nutrients.
Therefore, applying additional nitrogen where soil pH, P or K are low will give a lower than expected return on your investment.
The levels of pH, P and K in your soil are relatively easy to test for at a cost of about €25 per sample. Soil samples should be taken over five to 10ac every three to five years. These are essential when planning the fertiliser and lime applications on your farm for the year. This is particularly true in the case of lime and K, which are not restricted by the Nitrates regulations. Use your fertiliser plan to decide on your fertiliser purchases for the coming year.