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How one major arable producer makes their fertiliser choice

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Fertiliser Choice Critical On 3000ha Mixed Arable Operation

Making the right decisions around fertiliser choice and management is critical to the successful production of 3000ha of vegetables and cereals at Westrope Farming Ltd in Suffolk.

With nearly 800ha of high value root crops alongside 1000ha of quality wheat aimed at the milling market, British made Ammonium Nitrate lies at the heart of all their cropping, says farm manager Andy Rankin.

“Anything that gets in the way of crops getting the nutrients they need at the time they can make full use of them, be it as a result of cheaper products with low Nitrogen utilisation, poor application performance or log-jams when it comes to machinery, is simply a waste of time and money.”

Ammonium Nitrate product of choice across 3000ha

“We’ve looked at everything over the years, but we know we can’t beat what good high quality Ammonium Nitrate based fertiliser can offer us.”

“We’ve never entertained urea as it’s far too risky from a crop utilisation point of view, and liquid fertiliser application simply doesn’t give us the flexibility we need.”

Current cropping managed by the operation, based near Wickham Market, consists of 500ha of potatoes, 200ha of onions, 70ha of carrots, 300ha of sugar beet, 20ha of vining peas, 300ha of barley, 400ha of oilseed rape, 80ha of maize and the 1000ha of wheat.

Apart from a single base application of a liquid suspension fertiliser pre-planting on the root crops, all fertiliser requirements across all crops are taken care of by CF Nitram (34.5%N) and CF DoubleTop (27N + 30SO3).

Skyfall and Crusoe form the backbone of the wheat enterprise and in the three years of growing these varieties, milling spec has never been missed, Andy says.

“We’ll apply 40kg N/ha from DoubleTop with the associated Sulphur (45kg SO3/ha) in late February or early March and then plan a further three top ups of Nitram to take the full N application up to around 250kg N/ha depending on yield potential.

“The second application won’t go on until late April with the final one being held back until June and I am sure it is that allied to the quality of the N source and the efficiency of its uptake that really helps build the protein and the yields.”

Liquid options too inflexible

“You can’t do that with a liquid – the recommendation for final application is GS32 with liquid fertilisers – and the fact that we’ve consistently achieved grade A milling specs with 13% protein contents and yields topping 10.0t/ha says it all.”

Both the barley and oilseed rape crops benefit from the Doubletop and Nitram combination as well with barley receiving 220kg N/ha and the oilseed rape getting up to 250kg N/ha.

Practicality of fertiliser use is also important, Andy says.

“We won’t stint on giving the crop what it needs when it needs it and to be able to do that consistently we need the flexibility of being able to go out and perhaps spray and apply fertiliser to the same crop on the same day.

“I therefore need two methods of application and I can’t use the same machine i.e. the sprayer, to do both jobs without losing timeliness.”

Andy gives the labour saving argument short shrift, too.

“As long as fertiliser stocks are strategically well placed, then we can achieve good outputs from one operator spreading and loading themselves, certainly the same as running a sprayer operation.

Urea and blends do not provide precision needed

When it comes to other forms of fertiliser, blends or urea are not an option either, Andy says

“We used to use an Ammonium Sulphate blend, but it won’t spread accurately at 24.0m let alone the 32.0m some of the arable land uses.”

“I am not a fan of urea either because of the loss of Nitrogen to the air from volatilisation in anything but perfect conditions.”