Top tips on saving money on your fertiliser

Cost reduction is at the forefront of every ones thoughts at the moment. Fertiliser price is an area which many of you are looking at with the intention of reducing your bills or cutting back on this year. An important but obvious comment here is that if you are trying to increase output from forage you need to make sure that you have the right quality and quantity of forage to be able to achieve this. Getting the right advice on growing and utilising grass this year therefore is going to be paramount to increase the production from forage figures.

When we think about fertiliser we are talking about a substance that when applied will increase the quantity and quality of plant growth. So it would seem logical to assess our fertiliser costs against this measure. But we don’t.

Generally we know how much our overall fertiliser bill is per year, some of the time cost/acre, but when it comes to fertiliser cost per kg/dry matter produced (or more importantly utilised) it becomes very unclear.  One of the main reasons for this is that it can be difficult (but not impossible) to assess yields of grass crops.

Let me give you an example; 2 farms, both spending £10,000/year on fertiliser, both farms 100 acres (nice round figures for calculation). Both farms have a cost/acre of £100 on fertiliser. However farm 1 utilises 3.6 tonnes of dry matter per acre and farm 2 utilises 4.4 tonnes. Despite having the same total costs and costs/acre Farm 1 has a fertiliser cost of £27.77/tonne(2.8p/kg) of DM v’s Farm 2 at £22.72/Tonne (2.3p/kg) of DM, almost 20% lower than farm 1.

The interesting part of this is that if Farm 1 is producing enough forage to meet their current needs then by increasing the efficiency at which fertiliser is converted into dry matter they would be able to do one of 2 things; either carry more stock or reduce their fertiliser bill!!

So what are the top tips for getting more from the fertiliser you buy:

  1. Get the pH right.

Soil acidity is an integral part of the efficiency at which nutrients are used. At a pH of 5.5 a large proportion of nutrients applied are not available to the plant. A bag of 20.10.10 becomes a bag of 15.5.8 for the same cost! A targeted application of lime on low fields can have a dramatic effect on output and quality.

  1. Grass and clover.

All grasses are not equal. The species you have in your leys all have different qualities, one of which is their response to nitrogen. Ryegrasses have an excellent conversion of Nitrogen to dry matter (assuming there are no other limitations) when compared to other commonly found grassland species such as meadow grasses. That in fact is 73% less effective at converting nitrogen into dry matter. Having an average of 30% clover in your ley across the year can supply  150-175Kg/ha (120-140 units/acre) of N per year.

  1. Compaction

Surface or subsoil compaction has a profound effect on nutrient efficiency. Trial work in Scotland showed that to achieve the same yield on a compacted ryegrass sward as a non-compacted sward, twice the amount of Nitrogen had to be applied. Identification and rectification of compaction is a cost effective way of getting more from your fertiliser.

  1. Supply and Demand

This may seem obvious but:

  • provide the plant with what it needs to express its potential
  • BUT don’t oversupply what it doesn’t need!
  • Target your slurry and FYM to areas of the farm that can take advantage of the additional potash so that you can reduce the amount you are buying in.

Also consider that there are over 32 nutrients that are used by the plant to grow not just NPK, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur and trace elements are all important, especially when you are changing the types of grasses and clovers that are in your ley. Also don’t forget timing of application.

  1. Utilisation

This tends to be one we forget but can have a huge effect. Are we using what we are producing? Making sure that grass is grazed and cut at the right time to ensure maximum yield and good re-growth. Reduce grazing rejection by topping or the inclusion of Sodium.  Making sure that the ration is balanced to get every last drop of milk or kg of meat from forage. After all we have spent a lot growing this forage, it only gives a return if we are using it.

This list is not definitive and there are many more ways of getting more from your fertiliser, please give us a call and one of our dedicated forage specialists will be pleased to come and give you a visit.