Using forward-bought fertiliser just because you have it sitting in the yard could prove a very costly mistake if the blends no longer match your soil samples
It looks like the 2021 season is finally about to kick off after what’s been a long winter on many fronts.
It seems a lifetime away since we were able to get out in the fields and get crops into the ground. Despite the challenging conditions many winter crops were sown in, by and large they have come through well and face into the spring in good order and with good promise.
The huge change in the profit potential from these crops is remarkable. The change in grain price in the six months since they were put in the ground makes a mockery of all the long-term planning and profit projections we did last autumn.
It can be very easy to get carried away with the grain price, but in the field it should not make any difference in how these crops are treated. Once a crop is in the ground, the focus should be on maximising yield while minimising cost.
There will be plenty of temptation to foist extra costs on crops this year because, like the shampoo ad, they ‘are worth it’, but a higher grain price should mean higher profit for you, and it should not be absorbed in higher production costs.
We should take the lead from our dairy brethren and their ability to focus on their own profit first and foremost. It's something we are very good at in the tillage sector.
Before the season kicks off in earnest, a quick walk of the farm with a notebook or the note function on the phone would be in order.
The wet year has shown up the appearance, or reappearance, of many wet spots in fields. Before they disappear from sight and memory, a note or map of wet areas that will need attention can be very useful. It might even be worth sacrificing some areas now and carry out some drainage work in specific areas over the summer and have them ready for sowing next autumn.
In the long-term it’s a good investment and it shouldn’t be rushed –machine operators good enough to take on drainage work might be more available over the summer.
Bear in mind, depending on the amount of drainage involved, permission may be required under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations, so check that out as well.
Also, when you’re on the walk, have a look at trees along hedgerows and the condition they are in. Many hedgerow trees are ash and are succumbing to Ash dieback.
Many other trees are there as a result of a planting scheme, instigated by the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) at the turn of the last century, so are reaching the end of their natural life.
Either way, there are plenty of potential widow-makers out there that aren’t going to get better with time, so getting old, dangerous trees safely removed (professionally) and replaced with new saplings could be time well spent.
And, yes, you’ve guessed it, there are plenty of regulations covering the removal of hedgerow trees. These include closed periods for nesting; felling licences, Basic Payment Scheme requirements, and Health and Safety regulations so check those out as well.
Soil samples and fertilisers
After the walk, it might be no harm to also look at the soil samples of your fields. Soil samples tend to be pored over when they are first received, but then filed away and forgotten about.
Soil samples are good for three years; less if drastic measures were taken recently such as liming or organic manures applied. In this case, samples over two years old should be treated with some caution.
Fertiliser was very cheap for a while and plenty was forward bought. Perhaps the blend purchased a few months back in haste isn’t the correct blend to suit your soil fertility?
Don’t be tempted to put on fertiliser blends just because it’s the one in the yard. It could be a colossal waste of money in some instances and extremely wasteful if excess or insufficient nutrients are applied. It could also pose problems with tallying up for nitrates regulations at the end of the year.
In some instances, the best policy is to ‘let the first loss be the worst loss’ and get the fertiliser changed. It might well be the cheaper option in the long run.
Richard Hackett is an agronomist based in north Co Dublin and is a member of the ITCA