Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Test soils to boost crops and see rise in returns


Helen Harris

Helen Harris

As tillage farmers, we all know the importance of doing soil samples. Or do we? You may think that you know a field by looking at it, but in reality a soil test is the only way to find out what's going on in the ground.

It is very important to know your land; knowing what it needs and what it doesn't. It can save you as much as it can cost you on fertiliser, lime and trace elements.

If you can give your crops the best conditions to grow and yield, they are at an advantage straight away.

So a soil sample can make the difference between profit and loss. We are looking at what we can do now to check that we have what the crop needs in the spring.

Last year, all tillage farmers were informed that they had to have their whole farm tested for organic matter within two years. Organic matter can be defined as material that is capable of decay or the product of decay, or both. In other words, the straw and leaves that will rot down in the soil.

I was informed that the reason for needing this information was that, at a European level, they were going to look at all the countries that are in continuous crops to study them all.

I believe what prompted this was that parts of France and England are having problems with crop yield in areas where they have been growing continuous crops for decades. They think that these areas have low organic matter and if they bring the level up they will return them to good growing areas.

We do soil sampling for Teagasc and haven't seen any overall results on the organic matter levels in Ireland but from what I have seen in Co Kildare, I don't think we have a problem in Ireland. Even where organic matter levels seem to be low, we still are getting good yields.

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There may be options for farmers to do a barter system in the future. Beef and dairy farmers need straw, and tillage farmers need slurry and farm yard manure.

If you have hungry ground, it will benefit from farmyard manure. The price of fertiliser is so expensive that there is a value in both slurry and manures. The problem with a barter system is that the value of straw fluctuates so much it's almost impossible to get two farmers to agree a value on both. If you have a weighbridge, it can make it easier to put a value on the weight of both. The important part to remember is that whatever you import or export from your farm has to be included in your nitrates plan.

The crops are looking good at the moment. We have a few bare patches where water sat too long. We are keeping an eye out for slugs. So far they haven't done any damage. I'm also very generous with the rat bait at this time of year, especially as it gets colder.

It's a good time to check the trees in the ditches. If you have any that look old or could fall, cut them down and you have cheap firewood.

At this time of year we are also taking a look at our equipment. The ploughs have new points and greased boards. New bearings went into the furrow press. We have put new seals in our sprayer, checked all the nozzles, calibrated it, before greasing it up and filling it with antifreeze. Hopefully we won't get the same cold weather that we got last year. We still won't be taking any chances and will be putting it in the shed.

We are loading out grain at the moment for various contracts, so shed space is still scarce until we empty them. Hopefully we will get them emptied before any serious frost. We have checked the tractors for antifreeze. It's very important until we get them all into the sheds. It was the last weekend in November last year that was the start of the hard frost. I hope we don't see any until January.

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

Indo Farming