Fertiliser: Make soil samples the first step in fertiliser budget decisions
And lime is so important for fertility it should be made a top priority ahead of any other manure
As we head towards the spring, longer days and, hopefully, higher temperatures will force our temperate plants out of their wintertime slumber.
This growth is the very essence of what we live off as farmers and it has to be encouraged and maximised wherever possible.
In order to encourage growth, the number one tool we have at our disposal is fertiliser, whether chemical or organic. The application of fertiliser on to our crops stimulates growth and increases the rate of growth over and above what would otherwise occur.
Before any discussion of fertiliser source can take place, the first thing to address is the soil pH level. Where lime is required, any manure applied, whether slurry or chemical fertiliser, will not work efficiently and therefore wastage occurs. Lime is so important to fertility that if the budget is so limited and lime levels are low, all monies should be spent on lime and none on any other manure - it's that important.
Lime application has the effect of releasing previously applied nutrients that were unavailable as they couldn't be 'activated' as the soil pH wouldn't allow for it. So in the absence of applying other nutrients, lime application can result in the soil temporarily supplying other nutrients to the crop from soil reserves.
Once the soil pH has been addressed, for the purposes of this discussion, manure comes in three forms: organic manure being recycled from within the farm, organic manure being imported from external sources, and inorganic manure or chemical fertilisers. In terms of importance, they can be considered in the above order. Every year, as soon as the prohibited period from applying spreading slurry starts, as sure as the clock turns back, the bleating starts for the 'end-of-calendar farming', accompanied by the perennial 'bureaucracy gone mad' statements.
The purpose of these calls are to allow farmers to spread slurry whenever and wherever they want. This attitude is perplexing. One of the most valuable resources a farm produces is slurry. It contains vast amounts of phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen, the three elements that are most scarce on the farm and the most expensive to replace.
Yet there are those who continually wish to treat slurry as a waste, something to be disposed of rather than managed to best effect.