Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Results prove regular soil sampling is essential

Helen Harris

Helen Harris

Sustainable intensification could be the future of tillage farming, according to Professor Ian Crute who spoke at the National Tillage Conference in Kilkenny last Wednesday.

Teagasc had various speakers, covering a wide range of topics in a very interesting conference that was well attended. What I got out of it was Prof Crute's suggestion that we produce grain as efficiently as possible on the smallest footprint of land. It sounds like common sense to me but, if you look at all the proposals for the CAP reform, you would get the impression that to grow crops that keep everyone happy is the most complicated thing in the world.

Other speakers talked about research into crops and machinery. I find that you will always learn something at these events. Some of the science goes over my head but most of it is very educational. With all the cuts proposed by the Government, I would highly recommend them to have a look at the research and development work that Teagasc and the agricultural industry are doing. The whole feel to the conference was one of optimism and positivity about the future in the tillage sector.

We got our soil sample results back. No big shocks but some surprises nonetheless. We have a field close to the yard that many years ago got a lot of slurry, and every time we previously soil sampled it the results showed we couldn't spread any phosphorous (P). We haven't spread slurry on it for about five years. We got it soil tested over the past two years as we thought it would need P now because it has been in continuous winter wheat that long. Both results said it didn't need any more. However, the third year result showed a different story: we can now spread P.

It does pose a bigger question: if soil sample results are valid for five years and six months, should we be taking them more often than that? If we had gone with the results from the test last year, we wouldn't be spreading P for the next five years, even though we now know it needs it. I reckon this could have had a big effect on yield.

Other results were as expected and the soil organic matter was more than 3.4pc for all fields. I then decided to start our nitrates plan for this year's crop armed with all my information.

I know with the recent wet weather there isn't a better time to do paperwork, but it took me half the day just to input the information. In the end, we had worked out our total fertiliser requirement and what compounds we needed. When we have the soil sample results, we can match a compound easier with what the fields need rather than guessing. We have found in the past when we bought compounds that had included sulphur that it did not spread the full distance. Maybe we will change and try a CCF Sulcan product instead.

With this work completed, all we needed was a good price. We started to ring around the usual merchants and the average was €305/t for CAN and €430-490/t for various compounds. However, rumours are starting to get stronger about the price rising next week.

Also Read

Dermot Forristal had a good presentation at the tillage conference on fertiliser spreading. I am going to get trays out and calibrate our fertiliser spreader before we start this year.

The winter barley is starting to look under pressure in the mild weather, with its appearance turning slightly yellowish. This could mean that if the weather continues to stay mild it will need nitrogen earlier than normal. The reason for this is to hold onto all the tillers that have formed because this is where you get the most yield increase with barley.

On a completely different subject, combines4charity are trying to break the record again for the most combines cutting at the same time after a Canadian group beat the last record they set. They are looking for anyone who has a combine to take part at the end of July. You don't need to raise money, although that would be appreciated. The organisers will do all that. Let them know if you are interested, then turn up and have fun. For more see

Helen and Philip Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Email:

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