Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Sustainable approach slashes fertiliser bills

SUSTAINABILITY is an issue that is key to the Fethard family's tillage operations.

The farm is now operating with a soil Index of level 2 to 3 across the whole farm platform.

However, they had dipped in parts as far below the optimum to Index 1 before they started returning manure to the soil.

"We leave out straw to the local horsey fellas and livestock crew but we take it back and spread it on our land," says Noel.

"You're talking about sustainability that big word in Europe. That is all we want to talk about now. Keeping the land alive - we need to put back what we are taking out of it so straw and compost.

"It helps the worms and puts life back into the soil. Rejuvenates the whole soil. That is why we are able to get those yields," he says.

"In the last five years we've started this to rejuvenate the land - it has turned that land that wasn't producing any crops into land delivering super crops. It has turned the land inside out."

However, he said an added advantage was that it slashed their fertiliser bill by a third.

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"It has brought down our fertiliser bill by around €80 an acre," he says. He believes that under any new CAP negotiations a push should be made for added payments for farmers pushing sustainability.

Noel, a former IFA grain committee chairman, was instrumental in negotiating for €3m funding under CAP reform for the growth of 10,000ha of protein crops with the recoupled payment incentive.

"I'm working on trying to get in new varieties that will come in earlier - around the end of August or first week of September. The moisture would be lower and it would help the whole trade.

"Tillage is a minority crop here in this country there are only 11,000 of us left, with about 2,000 producing 80pc of the grain. However, he says the conacre prices are now unsustainable.

The family now farms 300ac of their own land, and most of the remaining under share farming arrangements with neighbours, and Gavin rents a small amount of land.

"It is share farming mostly - the farmer supplies the land, we do the work, and then we split the inputs and whatever comes out at the end of the line we come to an agreement of 50/50 or 60/40," he says, adding they followed the Teagasc formula.

"It is straightforward enough if we have a good year, he has a good year but if we have a bad year we are not bust either. Whereas if you pay high rents and you've a bad year then you have to pay the high rents."


Another initiative that they started was a group list of texts to nearby potential straw purchasers.

Unlike reports from some parts of the country, Noel says straw has been "flying out" of the fields after they organised a marketing campaign with text messages to motivate purchasers.

"We're looking at the quality straw market as well," he says, adding extra monies can be generated out of planning for the straw market.

"We grow the six row varieties and the Volume as we want it for good quality straw as well.

"The horsey guys and dairy guys like good lovely golden straw whereas the two row varieties don't generally provide the lovely golden straw."

Indo Farming