Survey reveals measured approach is improving efficiency

12 May 2020

Producers are taking an increasingly measured approach to their grassland and manure management, which is helping to cut costs and improve efficiencies.

A survey carried out by the organisers of the Grassland & Muck Event – the third such survey since 2011 – has revealed that more producers are analysing inputs and outputs, enabling them to better target management decisions.

Greater efficiencies

This year’s event has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. “But we thought it was important to publish the results of the survey so producers and their advisers can identify trends and opportunities for greater efficiencies,” says event organiser Alice Bell.

Based on responses from 224 units across the UK, more producers are testing soil, and they are testing it more regularly, with 68% testing it every five years or less compared to 62% in 2017 and 57% in 2011.

Manage nutrients

“This is good news as measuring soil nutrient status helps to manage nutrients more effectively,” says ADAS soil scientist Paul Newell Price.

“When applying fertiliser or manure, soil testing and liming to optimum soil pH helps these materials to be utilised more efficiently.”

Soil pits

More than a third dig soil pits to analyse soil structure, compared to just a quarter in 2017.

“Following the wet winter many soils may be compacted or poached so, where there may be a problem, it’s important to check the sward and dig a hole to identify what action – if any – is required.”

Producers are also applying lime more regularly, with 56% applying it every five years or less compared to 49% of respondents in the previous survey.

High rainfall

“When you look at individual responses, there is good understanding driving these decisions,” says Yara agronomist Philip Cosgrave.

“Producers are aware of the acidifying effect that this year’s high rainfall will have on pH, and are basing applications on soil tests.”

Accurate testing

There has been a continued shift to more accurate testing of manure nutrient content. The survey revealed that 18% used laboratory analysis, against 14% in 2017 and just 9% in 2011. “That is good to see because there is huge variation in organic manures,” adds Mr Cosgrave.

As a result of this more technical approach, producers have further reduced fertiliser use – 32% used less nitrogen fertiliser in 2020, more than a quarter reduced phosphate use, and 22% cut potash applications.

“In contrast 40% of respondents increased sulphur use, which is not a surprise,” says Mr Cosgrave. “Producers are much more aware of sulphur requirements – it’s now up there with N, P and K.”