Farmer Focus: Muck isn’t all magic

March was a busy month for us, with the dry weather getting everything into gear. A broken fertiliser spreader delayed the first spring doses, but thanks to the kind weather we are now caught up.

Spring muck spreading was completed with relative ease – no muddy roads and no messy crops where slurry was applied.

However, as the wheat has moved on, the light and dark green barcodes show the flaws in my fertiliser-saving plans.

See also: Why mixed farmer exited pigs to focus on agroecology cropping

About the author

Charlie Cheyney
Arable Farmer Focus writer Charlie Cheyney farms more than 480ha land in Hampshire in partnership with his father. They run a mixed arable and 450-cow dairy enterprise, growing cereal and forage crops on varying soils, from chalk to heavy clay.
Read more articles by Charlie Cheyney

On paper it was all so easy, with expensive bagged nitrogen being swapped for the abundantly available slurry. But unlike a bag of crisp white prills, slurry has a different reality.

Lumps of silage that bind up macerators and block dribble bars, sand that settles in tankers and steep fields that heavy tankers just won’t go up. Not to mention variations in the product from day to day.

The imperfection and untidiness of my wheat crop highlights how much more needs to be done to get close to the uniform results that bagged products deliver.

However, the potential is there, with crops looking stronger and healthier where the slurry is applied.

We certainly need a bit more time to perfect the system and I was a little relieved hearing Defra’s recent announcement regarding autumn muck spreading.

Despite our best efforts, it would have been difficult to have no outlet for muck at that time.

It would have put considerable pressure on storage and the following spring applications.

With the recent push to use more organic manure on farms instead of wasting it as we’ve been told we are doing, my recent attempts highlight that this is not an overnight process.

It will take considerable time and investment for us to achieve this, and I hope this is understood by policymakers.

It is clear fields that received more manure historically are notably better performing, with more fertile and more forgiving soil, with the contrast being less and less viable.

Going forward, I think we are on the right track. With the dairy producing large amounts of slurry and manure, we have no choice but to make it work for us. As fertiliser prices soar manure is more viable than ever.

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