Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Do a deal with your neighbour on slurry to try to curb stubbornly high fertiliser costs TILLAGE

Pat Minnock urges people to do a deal with neighbours on slurry, as fertiliser costs remain stubbornly high. Photo: Thinkstock.
Pat Minnock urges people to do a deal with neighbours on slurry, as fertiliser costs remain stubbornly high. Photo: Thinkstock.
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

Now that the goose has been well and truly cooked, eaten and digested, thoughts turn to planning for 2014.

The back end of 2013 was exceptional, probably the best ever recorded, particularly at sowing time and for crop establishment and growth. Compared with the previous few years it is reasonable to say that all crops are looking extremely good and bode well for the season ahead.

Pigeon grazing damage to winter oil seed rape crops is the exception rather than the rule so far this winter and all crops should come through the winter in good stead with significant yield potential.

Obviously the good weather in the back end has increased pest and disease levels and will lead to greater than normal problems when temperatures rise and growth starts this spring. More careful monitoring will be required in early spring, especially if growth conditions are good.

You should consider your planned cropping programme again. Take into account the likely changes from CAP reform, especially regarding requirements to have a range of crops from 2015.

This crop diversification requires a grower with 10-30ha of crops to have two different crops, while farmers with more than 30ha will be required to have at least three different crops. This should not be particularly onerous since the likes of winter and spring barley will be considered as two crops.

The major concern for farmers will be the price that can be achieved next harvest. Unfortunately at the moment, forward prices do not look overly attractive with the optimists hoping for €160/t for green wheat, and no more than €150/t for barley.

The outlook for cheaper fertiliser does not look like materialising either. Over the last few months there has been some talk of a break up in the 'cartels' selling the likes of potash onto the world market.

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Those developments may not have the impact on prices that we hoped for because there are still so few players in this market.

Rather than any major falling out it appears that differences have been resolved with 'distribution arrangements' back in place between the main players.

There has been little or no forward purchase of fertiliser this year. There were some early nitrogen purchases but current prices appear to have risen compared to what was available three months ago.


A limited number of growers purchased nitrogen at €270/t. Today's prices are up to €40 higher than this. This would leave nitrogen slightly cheaper than 2013.

Urea is also quite scarce and prices will probably be similar to 2013. There may be some small reductions in the price of NPK compounds but the differences may not have a huge impact in reducing input costs for the season.

Fertiliser usage is the single biggest input cost accounting for over 50pc of total input costs for cereal and break crops.

Soil sampling and quality nutrient management plans coupled with the efficient use of organic manures will be key to controlling costs for the season and improving returns from your grain crops.

Ensure that your fertiliser spreaders are properly calibrated. You should also be particular about the ins and outs and hedgerow bouts to minimise fertiliser usage and drive down costs.

Shopping around for prices on fertiliser will reduce costs somewhat but it is the incorrect and over use of compounds in areas where they are not required that really drives up costs.

CAP reform will see a major drop in the Single Farm Payment for many tillage farmers, with a minimum of 25-30pc on the cards for many after 2015. Each farmer needs to know their own individual average value per entitlement (hectare) and the likely impact that the various deductions will have on their own payment.

I would urge all growers to become familiar with the proposed impact on their payment. The actual SFP drawn down for 2014 will be the main driver for farmers in determining what their SFP will be post 2015. This will be tied in with the number of hectares farmed in either 2013 or 2015. Quality advice and knowledge of your own situation in 2014 will be paramount to enable you to make the right decisions.

Finally a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014 to all.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA.

Irish Independent