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Friday 19 April 2019

Helen Harris: 'We are ringing the changes on our fertiliser strategy'

Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare
Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare
Stock image
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

The fine weather saw us get a huge amount of work done in the last few weeks. The crops have really taken off and we are seeing the benefit of the recently applied fertiliser kicking in.

Last year when we sowed the spring barley, it was followed by weeks of dry weather and you could see the undissolved fertiliser sitting on top of the ground weeks later.

The plant was looking for the nutrients and the dry ground meant that the small white ball of fertiliser sat ­beside it without melting into the ground to feed it.

This year we have been much luckier with the ­conditions. The soil is dry enough to travel and yet damp enough to allow the fertiliser to dissolve.

We have had to have a serious look at our ­fertilisers this year and not just because of the drought last year. We have to ask ourselves how much of last year's unused fertiliser is still in the ground? How do you quantify that?

The other concern was the Department guidelines for using chicken litter.

My understanding was that all types of chicken ­litter had to be ploughed down, due to the risk of spreading botulism and other diseases.

Many tillage farmers are now min till or no till so this would mean that chicken litter is no longer an option.

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The chicken litter we were using was both dried and pelleted.

I am happy to clarify that the Department has given written assurances that these new guidelines do NOT apply to the chicken litter pellets. Because these have been heat treated, they do not come under the same guidelines.

Over the years we have found these products to be really beneficial to the soil.

During times of stress for plants, like the drought and flooding, anywhere we had used organic manure - ­especially the chicken litter - the crop seems to cope much better.

Also, because we are not in a livestock area, it was far easier to import bagged pellets than getting slurry or farmyard manures on to the farm.

That said, we no longer have the option of importing unprocessed chicken litter.

Liquid fertiliser

Another change for us is that after the drought affecting the uptake of fertiliser, we started looking at liquid fert.

This is becoming much more affordable and manageable than it had been previously.

More suppliers are bringing it in and at much more competitive prices. Because we are now using more straight P and straight K than we would have done previously, this too will give us the option to buy straights in liquid form in the future.

So far, both the winter wheat and winter barley have received 120 units of nitrogen. The oil seed rape got the same, but the crop is advanced and the tractor was rubbing the top of the crop.

The field wasn't fit to travel on before now, but if it had been left any longer, it would have done damage to the growing crop by driving through it.

It is starting to flower and the forecast is for cold nights which could damage the petals, which could in the long run effect yield. The winter barley has also received growth regulator Ceraide 1.25l per hectare.

The winter beans are up but still looking patchy. The crows did a lot of damage around the headland and the size of the plants varies from two to nine inches high. It has also got one bag to the acre of potash.

Like the oil seed rape, some of the beans are starting to flower, so we need the temperatures to pick up. It is also a little too cold for the pollinators to get to work. Although the bees have started to travel, they need temperatures over 15°C to get them flying properly.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co. Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer

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