Pat Minnock: Proper nutrient planning measures can yield big savings on fertiliser
At this time every year I see farmers with great intentions about improving their soil and fertility management. They resolve to sample their farm and take on board serious nutrient management planning (NMP).
However, in many cases the resolve fades away like most New Year's resolutions. Part of the problem is because of uncertainty about crops yet to be sown and, especially what land is available.
But this should be less of a problem this season considering the amount of winter crops sown. These crops are now sown and in many cases well established. If there are soil results over the last few years these should be now presented to your agricultural advisor with the crop type noted.
If some plots remain without recent soil tests, these should be done over the next week.
Armed with good up-to-date soil sample results and knowledge of crops to be sown in each plot, your nutrient management plan for the season can be prepared.
If properly implemented this can save you significantly on fertiliser costs. Remember fertiliser costs will generally make up 50pc of all your input costs so this is one area where significant cost savings can be made.
Now is also the time to talk to that neighbour you helped out before Christmas when agreeing to take their slurry or farmyard manure. Your NMP should factor in the farmyard manure or slurry that you can import from these neighbours at the start of the season.
You should insist on getting this organic manure now before sowing. This will reduce your fertiliser costs and improve your soil fertility in the long run.
While you may not know the cropping programme details for all of your land it is likely that only a few fields remain undecided. Appropriate plans can be made on this basis with a quick amendment for the few fields when the final cropping decisions are made.
This is now also a good time to discuss your plans with your agronomist so that suitable crops still to be planted can be identified and possible markets discussed.
Slurry & straw
If you have had that discussion with your neighbour about their slurry before Christmas or are having it this month in relation to slurry, take the opportunity to also discuss straw requirements and if any feed could be produced on your farm for their livestock enterprises for next season.
While memories can be short particularly, when the anticipated forage shortages did not arise, very few will forget the concerns that existed in the farming community last summer and the expected fodder shortage.
Thankfully, this shortage does not appear to have materialised. We are still not out the other side, however, lots can happen still.
Now is the time to build up relationships with neighbours and agree to the growing of cereals, maize, fodder beet or other suitable crops in exchange for the supply of organic manures.
There are many templates available for agreements to be drawn up and every farmer will have a different requirement but it is important to draw up an agreement between the two parties and sign off on this.
This should include volumes and quality to be supplied, prices and payment schedules. No doubt, if you are new to these arrangements it may take time to build up a rapport or confidence in a relationship.
There is no doubt that this will eventually be well worthwhile and successful should both parties manage to abide by the agreements. It is important to remember that there will be positives and negatives in any agreement. Some give and take initially is recommended to ensure the relationship and agreements work, however, the bones and spirit of the agreement should be strictly adhered to.
If you feel it necessary, the agreement should include the name of a possible arbitrator should any disagreement arise. In many cases your local agricultural consultant would be happy to facilitate this and invariably will understand the needs and requirements of both parties.
Both parties might prefer to have their own agricultural consultant sign off on the agreement so that there is no ambiguity in the agreement.
Keeping records is now a vital part of every farmers' work programme. This is the time to make sure that you have completed all your records for 2018 as, invariably, should you get a cross compliance inspection these records will be required.
If this inspection happens during a busy time you do not want this job outstanding.
Good records are also a good management tool for the farm and should not just be considered as a cross compliance necessity.
Finally, winter crops are generally looking extremely well and many crops are still growing.
Disease levels are increasing in some of the advanced crops but it is way too early to consider treatments. Some crops remain to be treated for weeds and occasions might arise over the next month to undertake your herbicide treatments.
Pat Minnock is a Carlow-based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA. www.minnockagri.ie
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