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Monday 15 October 2018

Only one in five farms spreading lime

Contractor Terry Shaughnessy spreading lime for Mark O'Gorman, Dunroe, Co Carlow last Friday. Photo: Roger Jones
Contractor Terry Shaughnessy spreading lime for Mark O'Gorman, Dunroe, Co Carlow last Friday. Photo: Roger Jones
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

An awareness campaign is needed to increase lime usage, according to Teagasc economist Dr Cathal Buckley.

A new fertiliser survey released from Teagasc notes that only 20pc of farms used lime year on year in the period 2005-2015.

One of the authors of the report, Cathal Buckley, told the Farming Independent that more needs to be done to increase lime usage on farms.

"Adequate liming is essential to achieve optimum soil pH levels in order to maximise the effectiveness of fertilisers.

"Farmers aren't optimising lime. There's a lack of knowledge around soil testing and pH.

"At farm advisory level one of the first things advisors do with farmers is create a pH plan but more awareness needs to be created," he said.

Mr Buckley added that lime unlocks nitrogen and phosphorus already present in the soil and is also more affordable than fertilisers on the market.

"It's very cheap and much more affordable compared to fertilisers. Lime is usually around €30 per tonne compared to average fertiliser prices of €250-400 per tonne,"he said.

The study is based on analysis of over a decade's worth of data collected by the Teagasc National Farm Survey.

Declines

It focuses on the usage of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime, with detailed analysis, by farm system, land use class, stocking rate, nitrate zone and agri-environment scheme participation.

The study indicates that nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertiliser application rates on grassland tended to be between 11-16pc higher at the start of the study period compared to the end, with more dramatic declines in application rates noticeable in the mid-study period (23-52pc).

The years of lowest grassland fertiliser use (2008-09) coincided with the period of highest fertiliser prices, while higher than average period application rates in 2013-2014 were associated with the aftermath of a national fodder shortage.

Similarly, the report finds that fertiliser application rates on cereal land were lower in the higher price period of 2008-09. Comparing 2005 with 2015 showed that nitrogen application rates on cereal land actually increased by about 10pc.

Phosphorus application rates on cereal land in 2015 were broadly in line with usage levels in 2005.

Potassium application rates on cereal land showed the largest increase, up 33pc in 2015 relative to 2005.

Fertiliser application rates on grassland were on average 36pc lower for farms participating in an agri-environment scheme.

While the report showed that fertiliser application rates were highest in the period following the last major fodder shortage, Mr Buckley said it's too early in the year to suggest that fertiliser usage will increase.

He said the high cost of fertiliser, while nowhere near peak rates of 2008, does dissuade farmers with lower incomes from purchasing it.

He added that the overall decrease in fertiliser use benefits the environment and could be due to farmers becoming more efficient with regards to fertiliser use.

Teagasc expert says new awareness campaign needed on soil testing and pH plans

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