The organisers of Grassland & Muck, one of many agricultural shows to fall victim to the coronavirus outbreak, have released the key findings of an interesting survey which suggests that farmers are taking an increasingly measured approach to their grassland and manure management.
The new survey, the third since 2011, has revealed that more farmers are analysing inputs and outputs, enabling them to better target management decisions, which ultimately helps to cut costs and improve efficiencies.
Based on 224 responses from around the UK, more people are testing their soil, and they are testing it more regularly. The latest survey found that 68% of farmers were testing soil nutrient status every five years or less compared with 62% in 2017 and 57% in 2011. The more that farmers measure, the greater the efficiencies that can be achieved when applying fertiliser or manure.
In addition, over a third are now digging soil pits to analyse soil structure – compared to a quarter in 2017. Getting out the spade is still one of the best ways to check for problems such as compaction or the breakdown of soil structure that can negatively impact the sward and take whatever corrective action may be necessary.
Farmers are applying lime more regularly, too, with 56% applying it every five years or less compared to 49% in the last survey. This helps to balance soil pH and increase nutrient uptake.
The survey also identifies a continued shift to more accurate testing of manure nutrient content. Some 18% of respondents used laboratory analysis as opposed to 14% in 2017 and just 9% in 2011. By adopting a more scientific approach, farmers have further reduced fertiliser use; 32% applied less nitrogen fertiliser in 2020. Just over a quarter reduced phosphate use and 22% cut potash applications. Conversely, 40% of farmers increased their use of sulphur, which is regarded as essential for the formation of plant proteins, amino acids, as well as certain vitamins and enzymes.
As farmers strive to produce higher quality silage and grazing to help increase milk or meat yields from their grassland, the survey found that 54% of respondents were measuring their grass, usually with a plate meter, compared with just 30% in 2017. Reseeding levels have remained fairly steady over the past three years, with 79% reseeding leys every one to six years.
Testing Yields Benefits
The overarching conclusion to be drawn from the survey is unsurprisingly this: Testing yields benefits! Regular and thorough soil testing and grass analysis can help you to identify any issues that may be affecting soil health and yields. This enables you to take timely remedial action, resulting in reduced costs of production, increased crop quality or both.