Farmer Focus: Jury still out on fertiliser thriftiness

Farming on an upland farm 25 miles west of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, comes with its own set of challenges. 

I am lucky enough to have called this home for all 41 years. Living in such a scenic area is something I now realise I have taken for granted, for most of that time. 

Long summer nights coupled with the current good spell of weather mean it is easy to lose track of time in the evening here.

See also: Nature-based farming can cut fertiliser use, finds trial

About the author

David Girvan
Livestock Farmer Focus writer David Girvan and family run a 140-cow Stabiliser herd and wool-shedding crossbred ewes on a 3,000ha upland farm west of Inverness. Finished stock are sent to Woodheads. Diversifications include pumpkin picking, wind turbines and a biomass boiler.
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The passing of the summer solstice is something we try to ignore for at least another few months, before finally giving in to the short and dark winter days.

It is a great place to raise our three children, who are able to come and “help” on the farm. Summer holidays mean they get to experience the real jobs, bringing in the silage and helping to roll wool. Some are more enthusiastic than others. 

We weaned the Suffolk lambs at 12 weeks old onto good aftermaths before the first store sale at Dingwall.

We find the lambs don’t really do a lot on their mothers any longer, so we give thin ewes plenty of chance to put on condition and have a lot of rough ground for the rest.

Thankfully, our weather recently has been settled enough to get the first crop of silage in – 14ha (35 acres) into the pit.  That amounts to about half of our total pitted silage crop.

I’d like to have said that this filled half the pit, but realistically, it’s more like one-third owing to low yield. Hopefully the quality will make up for the quantity.  

We have worked hard over the recent few years to increase the content of clover in our grass swards, and perhaps it might have proven a bit optimistic to cut the nitrogen out completely this year.

Thankfully, we have what looks like a good crop of arable silage remaining to pit in August. 

Going forward, I am keen to continue increasing the clover content until we can eliminate the use of bagged nitrogen on our grazing ground.

With the global price rises, never has it been so important to analyse the value of inputs to our business. 

It is always on the agenda to take a few days in the office to crunch the numbers. But, as many will relate, it’s not an easy thing to prioritise, unless some really inclement weather is due.