Farmer Focus: Allan Chambers February column - Farmers Weekly

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Farmer Focus: Allan Chambers February column

The challenges that farming keeps throwing up are what make it a most satisfying job. My latest one is how to use free organic manures to grow profitable crops and yet comply with the Northern Ireland Nitrates Directives.

I find soil fertility and its maintenance a fascinating subject and have records of phosphate and potash levels on all our fields over 25 years. The rates “artificial” applied each year have also been noted.

The long term picture is that phosphate indices are steady at 2-3 and potash levels are 1-2 and falling slightly.

Consulting RB209 shows that we need only apply 2.5t/ha of broiler litter to provide sufficient phosphate for spring barley and top up with bagged nitrogen and potash to achieve our normal rate.

The problem has been getting an accurate spread at such a low dose. But after several weighings and running behind the manure spreader I think we have cracked it.

The same calculations were done for pig manure on grassland, giving it the required application of 30cu m/ha and then topping up with 60kg/ha of 27.5% CAN.

At today’s horrific fertiliser prices the saving averages £80/ha, less the cost of storage and application. It’s well worth it.

We finished drilling our 24ha (59 acres) of Waggon spring barley following Italian ryegrass on 20 February. Ground conditions were perfect and this has been our earliest ever start and finish.

Wheat crops look good, but Retriever winter barley is suffering from manganese deficiency, mildew and rhynchosporium – all severe infections, making it look sick.

However, plant numbers are good and I am confident that we can get the crop into shape shortly.

Mistake of the month: Ran too close behind the broiler litter spreader and got coated. Packed lunch was left in the bag that day.

Farmer Focus: Allan Chambers February column

Time here has been taken up replacing slats on the redundant cattle house.Why bother? Well the old ones were dangerous and the replacements are strong enough to drive over, allowing farm machinery to be stored under cover.

We have been able to secure a guaranteed supply of pig slurry and will be able to store, below the new slats, about 1000gal for use on grassland and spring barley ground.

Because of our already implemented Nitrates Directive, I’ve been working my way through RB209, but find it a most confusing document when it comes to working out required spreading rates for organic manures.

I enjoy the thrust of debate on farming politics, and recently DARD issued a consultation document offering the potential to put a value on now defunct horticultural authorisations.

This would mean creaming about 0.5% off all SFPs in our region to fund a reasonable payment to fruit, vegetable and potato growers.

Bizarrely, the UFU leadership team took a decision not to lead on this issue and the debate became confused, resulting in a lost opportunity to request “fair play”.

We needed to put down a marker for post-2013 to ensure that further EU funding goes to those who farm the land and NOT to those who sit on their backsides holding the deeds of the property.

One third of farmland in Northern Ireland is rented out and is an inheritance tax avoidance system.

It’s time to confront the landlords. Reluctance to take them on shows a weakness in our farming organisation.

Mistake of the month: Two store lambs got caught up in briars at the side of the stream. Instead of me pulling them out, they pulled me in. Running water is very cold right now.

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