Nutrient cycling – cutting fertiliser, boosting bottom lines

First published: 03 August 2022

A picture of Will Oliver

NFU Combinable Crops Board member Will Oliver explains how his diversified family farm has cut inorganic fertiliser use and increased yields.

The days of organic manures being applied to the closest field to the farm have long gone. With the technology to ensure that our soils, manure and plants are tested, we can be sure we are getting the best from these valuable nutrients.

Our farm has utilised manure from the poultry unit, digestate from food waste, and sewage sludge this year. All of these were used in the spring to ensure we were getting the best from them.

Once the nutrients have been applied, crop performance is monitored, and tissue analysis is carried out to ensure plant health is where we would like it to be.

Getting best value from manure

We are no longer buying in P,K or S and our nitram usage is down 48% – with high fertiliser prices and the drive to improve efficiencies there are huge benefits to be had from these materials. Going forward, we will look at improving storage, and the potential to compost our manures to ensure we are getting best value out of them.

Reducing cost of production

Post-harvest, yield data is digested, and crop performance is analysed. In 2021, when inorganic fertiliser was cut back 45% and replaced with an organic alternative, we had an average yield gain of 0.91t/ha. This means we reduced our cost of production and increased yield, which only has a positive on our gross margin.

Putting back into the ground

Bringing crops such as grain maize to the rotation to utilise spring application of these materials is having a huge benefit, and harvesting the maize for the grain allows huge amounts of organic matter to be put back into our soils. The maize also allows us to use cover crops and, working with neighbouring sheep farmers, to contribute to improving our soil health.

A timely journey

Having these materials available has drastically changed our rotation and the way we farm. It is a journey that started in the early 2020s and it could not be better timed with nitram prices increasing 2.5 times since this time last year.

Improving yields, improving soils and remaining profitable is essential to our family business. I genuinely believe that these manures are conditioning our soils and I am learning all the time how we can really make the best use of them.

More from our nutrient cycling series

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