Slurry biodigestion produces a win-win situation for farmers and is a process worth pursuing
Is slurry an asset or a liability? Do you have a farm fertiliser plan that can be viewed in the event of a Single Farm Payment (SFP) inspection? Depending on whether you are in the glass-half-empty, or, the glass-half-full category, slurry/dung/animal waste can be viewed as a smelly pollutant or as a rich plant nutrient and energy source.
Lately there's much talk of slurry biodigesters. On RTE Duncan Stewart reckoned that we could light up Ireland with the energy released from our pig and cattle slurry if only we had biodigestion up and working. We badly lag the rest of Europe in this activity.
The other half of slurry's story is the fertiliser content. At a Teagasc farm demo last week in Oakpark, Carlow farmers were told that the recent jump in bag fertiliser price could be offset for cereal growers by a switch to slurry, especially pig slurry.
Such a move has also been facilitated by a change in the Nitrates regulations. This change allows cereal growers to now continuously apply organic fertiliser on the same field subject to an overall nitrogen limit.
The Oakpark event was about bringing precision to slurry use. Precision in terms of knowing the nutrient content of the slurry you are handling. Precision in terms of uniform application of slurry to your crops. And precision in terms of working to an overall fertiliser plan for your farm.
Such an overall farm fertiliser plan is part of cross compliance for the single farm payment but the Oakpark speakers accepted that, to date, few farmers have drawn up such a plan. However, they urged farmers to start now and draw up a farm fertiliser schedule for the coming season.
This should start with soil testing and an inventory of all fertiliser purchased on the farm and a record of fertilisers applied. This is more red tape but efficient use of fertiliser will also help achieve bottom-line profit.
One of the issues with slurry is the variability. Slurry fertiliser potential can vary according to the diet and species of animal providing the dung, the level of water dilution, the method and timing of application.