Trim fertiliser use- two good reasons why…

29 May 1998

Trim fertiliser use- two good reasons why…

By Simon Wragg

TIGHTENING up fertiliser use on grassland this summer will save costs and offset moves to introduce an input tax.

Under plans being considered by government, fertiliser, and other inputs believed to contribute towards the pollution of water, could be taxed to curb their use.

NFU economist, David Legg, expected to see the tax introduced in the last budget, but believes its still firmly on the agenda.

While nobody is suggesting producers are over-supplying fertiliser, Hydro marketing director, Tony Robinson, says they must demonstrate safe use as outlined in the Code of Good Agricultural Practice and balance nutrient supply with a crops demand.

"Producers have access to plenty of free advice on fertiliser use. Its up to them to show theyre using it," warns Mr Robinson.

To save costs and counter calls for the tax on environmental grounds, Fieldfare consultant, Mike Dewhurst, suggests reducing summer fertiliser applications, especially as grass is growing well.

Remember fields used for grazing build fertility and soil N levels should be accounted for when calculating fertiliser requirements, urges Mr Dewhurst.

"Summer applications of nitrogen could be cut by 15-20kg/ha where soil N is high, saving a total of 80-100kg/ha N over a season."

New Zealand consultant, Paul Bird, suggests producers have a chance to experiment with lower fertiliser rates given the surplus silage stocks from last year and a bulky first cut.

"Theres no need to push grass during June to provide a large second cut," he says.

Mr Bird also believes reducing fertiliser rates will help producers keep on top of grazing management – grass in some fields is still growing at 100kg DM/ha/day, he adds.

Ireland-based grazing consultant, Leonie Foster, urges holding back fertiliser use until the shoulders of the season when grass needs that extra boost to promote growth.

"During the productive phase fertiliser use can be cut right back on less intensive systems.

Producers with low stocking rates, typically one cow/acre shouldnt need to apply fertiliser at all during this time," says Ms Foster.

Acutely aware that a tax on in puts would increase cost to a cash-strapped industry, the NFU and Fertiliser Manufacturers Association (FMA) oppose a tax, claiming there is little evidence of a benefit to the environment.

FMA director general, Barry Higgs, suggested an input tax would be ineffectual. "Fertiliser use is inelastic to price. Effectively the tax would be like that on petrol. People still buy petrol even when the price goes up – it would simply be an extra cost," he suggests.

As margins are squeezed, FMA figures are already suggesting inorganic fertiliser use is declining slowly at about 3kg/ha/year – a trend which it expects to continue.

Title: Fertiliser for grass

* Demonstrate best practice

* Scope to reduce N use

* Tax still on the agenda


&#8226 Demonstrate best practice.

&#8226 Scope to reduce N use.

&#8226 Tax still on the agenda.

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