Soil fertility – can you afford to ignore it?

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Soil fertility – can you afford to ignore it?


Taking soil samples is essential to establish baseline fertility
Taking soil samples is essential to establish baseline fertility

Albert Einstein once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result”.

This statement often draws bright comments, but when margins are tight everything must be questioned. Usually, fertiliser and meal prices crop up in a conversation about improving profitability.

Obviously we have little or no say in the price of inputs, but we have control over the amount of fertiliser and meal purchased on our own farms and how efficiently they are used.

The benefits of spreading lime are well documented; every €1 spent on lime gives a €7 return.

Soil sample results often get ignored, but can you afford to ignore your soil fertility?

Knowing the price of fertiliser in every co-op within 10 miles may be useful, but it wouldn’t it be far more useful to know exactly what your soil needs to grow a good crop of grass at least cost?

Financially, between improved grass growth and a slightly longer grazing season; better soil fertility has the potential to reduce farm costs by at least €180 per hectare (ha) in the longer term.

This is worth €4500 – €5000 on a 27 ha (67 acre) farm typical of the Roscommon/Longford region.

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Can you afford to ignore that?

Assuming only a modest response; One tonne of 18-6-12 at €360 will grow enough good quality grass to feed 15 cattle (and potentially double this number) for three weeks to put on around 1 kg+ liveweight per day each.

To achieve this level of gain otherwise, it would take two tonnes of meal totalling €500+ along with mediocre quality grass or silage (and the costs of producing this also) to achieve a similar gain.

The labour and time involved in handling meal and forking silage every day versus the tractor carry a ton of fertiliser for an hour once a month must be factored in also.

It is clear which is easier on the pocket, another question might be which one is easier on your back?

By, Kevin McMenamin Teagasc Drystock Adviser, Longford Town

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