Sustainability, a topic widely spoken about in today’s farming community. With derogation guidelines and spreading constraints, nutrient management is a tool that can be easily utilised by all farmers to aid in maximising the output of their land in a sustainable way.
Nitrogen (N), phosphorus(P), potassium (K) and lime are essential nutrients required by plants to grow and perform at optimum level. Nutrient management plans provide farmers with information on how to grow crops to their potential from their farming system. This information includes when, where and how to apply nutrients to achieve optimum fertiliser usage and uptake by plants.
According to Teagasc, up to 90% of fields sampled in Ireland are sub-optimal for one or more of the following: pH, phosphorus (P) or potassium (K). Sustaining a pH between 6.3 and 6.5 on grassland mineral soils regulates nutrient availability. In grassland soils high in Molybdenum, it is important not to raise the pH above 6.2 as this can induce copper deficiency in animals.
What is Nutrient Management?
Nutrient Management involves using crop nutrients as efficiently as possible to maximise productivity in a sustainable way. The key principle behind nutrient management is balancing soil nutrient inputs e.g., fertiliser with crop requirements. This requires good record keeping, regular soil sampling, good crop management and following through on the advice specified. Soil samples should act as a guide for building a soil fertility programme.
On most farms nutrients are recycled from the soil to the crops, to the animals and returned to the soil as slurry. Nutrients are also lost through soil erosion, leaching, runoff and emissions. These are not alone an inefficient use of resources but also can have a huge impact on water quality.
Nutrient management planning aids in optimising the use of farm nutrients, improve soil health, reduce excessive nutrient build up and lower environmental risks. Each farm has a particular nutrient status based on soil type, structure and quality, crop rotation, nutrient input (chemical fertiliser).
Factors to consider when it comes to Nutrient Management
A soil analysis should be carried out regularly to determine the fertility status of the soil before making decisions for the forthcoming year. A soil test will give a pH reading and a lime requirement if necessary. If the soil is not at optimum pH, then only a fraction of the nutrients within the soil will be available to the plants for uptake.
Different soil types react in different ways to fertiliser and lime applications. Free-draining soils are more prone to leeching of nutrients. Soil type should be factored in when calculating fertiliser rates. The lie of the land can also affect the nutrient level in the soil e.g., steep slope.
Cropping history and crop requirement
Different crops deplete the soil nutrient levels at different rates. e.g., a maize crop will use considerably more K (potassium) per acre in a growing season when compared to a crop of spring barley. Each crop has different nutrient requirements. Nutrient requirements can also vary depending on projected crop yields.
Key Steps to Nutrient Management
- Draft a nutrient management plan: This plan should include soil test results, the crops grown on the farm, a value for nutrients supplied by organic manures and recommendations to provide optimise yields in a sustainable manner.
- Use good practice when spreading: Spread in accordance with guidelines and advice to avoid possible fertiliser wastage. E.g., spreading at the wrong time of year can lead to inefficiencies in fertiliser use.
- Time application correctly: Spreading at the optimum stage of crop growth and using a ‘little and often’ approach to fertiliser application will help maximise crop potential.
- Use balanced products: Target Fertilisers have a wide range of products to accurately meet all nutrient requirement situations.
- Consult the recommendations: Use the product recommendations from your advisor or sales representative to meet crop requirements and avoid environmental impact.
Chemical fertilisers should be applied precisely and accurately. Over-applying of fertiliser is costly to a farmer and can lead to higher risk of nutrient losses through leaching. Important factors to consider are fertiliser spreader setting, weather conditions, forward speed and even spreading.
Ensure the fertiliser spreader is correctly calibrated and avoid overlapping of spread widths. GPS technology systems can be very useful on farms with higher volumes of fertiliser usage. This ensures precise and even application of nutrients.
Here at Target Fertilisers, we believe in sustainable farming. Through the use of nutrient management, we can maximise the performance of our soils. Making a plan and carrying out regular soil analysis can set you on your way to more fertile and productive soil.
For further information regarding nutrient management and maximising your fertiliser investment contact one of our team on 053 9255389.
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