Best fertiliser practice and
good business sense were
top of the judges list for
this years Nitram Award.
This week we preview the
four finalists, with the
winner announced next
week. Emma Penny reports
FOR the Hall family, a successful, profitable business is all; if theres no profit, then everything else is lost.
But profiting they are, and the farm – run by Tom, his son Chris and daughter-in-law Margy – is reinvesting and expanding. But business growth at their 121ha (300 acre) Woolrow Farm, Roydhouse, Shelley, Huddersfield, is ongoing, with the family already farming an increasing area, with more cows producing higher yields.
Besides the 170-cow herd – the aim is to increase to 250 – which has an average PIN of £60 and is currently producing 9020 litres, the family has 53ha (132 acres) of cereals for combining and whole-crop.
Arable land fits in well, taking all slurry produced by the dairy. Slurry is analysed before application and its nutrient value accounted for in the farms fertiliser plan. The contractor spreading slurry has also been persuaded to think of it as fertiliser rather than a waste product, says Mrs Hall.
Their fertiliser policy aims for optimal N input. Solid mineral nitrogen tests are used to fine-tune bagged N applications, coupled with regular soil sampling.
Making the most of N also means the farms fertiliser spreader is regularly calibrated and maintained, says Chris. To ensure accurate spreading hes started drilling tramlines into grass, avoiding over or under-application, while a headland spreading disc ensures fertiliser doesnt end up in field margins.
FOR Wirral producers Don and Lorna Tyson, grassland management is complicated by the fact that besides 200 Holstein dairy cows and a pedigree Belgian Blue herd, they also take 50 horses on livery.
Their 144ha (355 acre) Brooklet Farm, Brimstage in Merseyside, is part of Lord Leverhulmes estate, and is close to several villages. Thats a driving factor in Mr Tysons objectives. "I want to show its not incompatible to have a profitable farm which is acceptable to the community and the environment."
When Mr and Mrs Tyson came to Brooklet Farm 11 years ago, they invested to improve drainage and several overgrown, stagnant ponds on the farm.
At that time, the entire farm was down to grass, but now half the ration for the 190, 7000 litre dairy cows is maize. "We also grow some fodder beet, and aim to produce more milk from home-grown forage. Maize is also a good opportunity to get rid of muck."
Muck and slurry are spread onto growing crops where possible, he says. This is part of the farms manure and fertiliser audit, which takes into account effluent control, protecting watercourses, dirty water separation, avoiding run-off, safe storage and efficient use of fertiliser and on-farm resources.
Mr Tyson says the fact that 397 livestock units can be maintained across 126 forage ha (312 forage acres) is proof of the systems success in maximising use of resources. "Efficient fertiliser use is one of the main components of this."
IMPROVING milk yields using less concentrate but greater reliance on forage is the aim of Dorset farm manager Robert Field.
Mr Field manages 222ha (550 acres) at Weston Farm, Worth Matravers, Swanage, with hilly land running up to the south coast cliffs. Main enterprise on the farm is a 130-cow dairy herd currently yielding 8200 litres, 3800 litres of that from forage.
"We need to get more milk from the same number of cows. The aim is to increase yield to 9000 litres – weve got the potential to do it, and removing older cows will help boost the average."
But Mr Field is keen to increase yields without feeding more concentrate. "When I first came here five years ago we fed 0.35kg/litre concentrate. Now were feeding 0.24kg/litre. Were getting the extra milk from better silage."
Silage making is complicated by the risk of dry weather from March onwards, coupled with shallow soils, meaning drought can be a risk. "We might not get second cut, so were growing more whole-crop silage. We cant grow maize because its just too windy."
This year, however, Mr Field is attempting to grow a whole-crop wheat and winter bean mix. Each crop has been drilled in a block, and will be harvested a whole-crop silage mix in the pit. "Hopefully beans will increase silage protein content."
The risk of drought also affects grassland fertiliser policy. This year, an early bite-type product was used on grazing ground to help boost early growth when soil moisture was plentiful.
"Fertiliser applications on silage ground also depend on whether theres a drought risk – well only apply fertiliser for second cut if were likely to get it."
ABERDEENSHIRE beef, lamb and arable producer William Ritch is convinced theres a future in beef – so much so that hes started a suckler herd to add to the 180 store cattle and 650 lambs he buys to finish each year.
But besides the 20 Limousin cross heifers hes started with, the 235ha (580 acres) at East Fingask, Oldmeldrum, Inverurie, also grows winter and spring barley – much of the spring barley destined for malting – and forage crops, including 8ha (20 acres) of swedes.
Growing malting quality barley and disposing a considerable amount of muck means care is required and Mr Ritch spreads muck over as many fields as possible before ploughing for spring barley.
"Muck produced later in spring is stored on a concrete pad over summer. Once rotted, it is spread on land destined for swedes."
But he is reluctant to take the N supplied by muck into account when working out his fertiliser policy. "Its something weve always used, so perhaps we unconsciously allow for it," he argues.
However, he is keen to ensure that fertiliser is spread carefully. "I want to put fertiliser where the crop is. Perhaps its good fertiliser practice based on careful spending – Id rather use too little than too much."
Grazing land usually receives about 62kg/ha (50 units N/acre) of a 25-5-5 compound. This year, however, straight N was used along with slag applied at 0.6t/ha (0.25t/acre) to help soil pH and nutrient status. *