Testing out how much money's in muck
This time last year when we got the results back from our soil test we were wondering what we could do to improve our soils. Not just the acidity (pH) and fertility, but the soil structure itself. Many of our fields are in continuous tillage for decades and if you keep taking from a field it becomes very important to give back.
By and large the soil tests showed that most fields had the correct pH. The ones that need it will get lime. The samples gave a very accurate account as to what Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) each needed, and this can be applied exactly as needed in a compound. The same is done with the nitrogen. We treat each crop differently so that we only put out what we feel is needed and when it is needed. Fertiliser is so expensive we need to treat it sparingly.
To help improve the structure and condition of the soil we need to chop straw in or add farmyard manure. Before we started ploughing in the autumn we decided to try poultry litter from a supplier called Gavin Owens. I was surprised how dry it was when it arrived.
It looked like very little on the ground even though we went with 4t/ac. As the contractor spread the manure we had two five furrow ploughs ploughing it down. We then sowed winter wheat straight into it, with all the machines working in the field at the same time.
We sent a sample of the poultry litter away for analysis to see the fertiliser content for our own benefit and for our Nitrates plan. I also took out our weigh-bridge records to see our yields from each field.
I always find it much better to do the Nitrates plan now so when we need to buy in the coming weeks, we have all the information to know what exactly to get. The difference between the total allowed fertiliser with and without the yield bonus was quite surprising. If we include our yield bonus we can spread almost an extra 4t of nitrogen, an extra 1t of P and almost 2t of additional K on the home farm alone.
The 195t of poultry litter had 308kg of 'available' N, 1,424kg of P, and 4,081kg of K. Taking in the total cost of importing and spreading, it will have saved us about €2,000 on our fertiliser bill. However, 45pc of the fertiliser is unavailable this year, so we should see really see the benefit over the next four or five years. In the long run it will save us much more.
We will still have to spread more chemical fertiliser on the fields that got the manure to bring them up to what the crop needs. In this case it's a field of winter wheat that will need an extra 20 units of P and 14 of K.