IRELAND – Irish soils can be improved dramatically through a soil care plan, dairy farmers are hearing.
High achievers on a SoilSmart programme are utilising over 12 tonnes of dry matter per hectare – Ireland national average is around 7 tonnes.
This was the message of Alan Hurst, technical manager with Lakeland dairies agribusiness, a processor which has embraced the SoilSmart programme and running trials on three monitor farms.
Addressing an onfarm SoilSmart demonstration, he said: “We are taking a more detailed look at the chemical, physical and biological properties of soils and introducing practices such as the physical aeration of soils and the treatment of slurry to increase the production potential of our soils."
Progress is being measured by grass tonnes per hectare, milk solids produced per hectare, milk from forage, grazing season length and other key performance indicators.
The programme falls within Lakeland's resource efficiency programme, aimed at increasing farm profits for its 2,200 farm supply base.
Lakeland Dairies have taken almost 6,000 soil samples through the initiative, finding only 20 per cent showed optimum pH readings. Lakeland concluded that 80 per cent of samples needed lime to maximise fertiliser response.
Dr David Atherton of Thomson and Joseph warned that compaction limits grassland productivity.
“Approximately 70 per cent of grassland farms in Britain have some level of soil compaction which can reduce grass yields by up to 40 per cent,” he revealed.
“Compacted soils take longer to warm up in the springtime which means grass growth is delayed and these compacted soils also hold more surface water. He also highlighted the importance of the correct Calcium: Magnesium ratio in the soil which is required to maintain a good soil structure.”
He added that soil improvement is a continuous exercise, noting the benefits of soil aeration and suggesting earthworm activity be used as an indicator of soil health.
TheCattleSite News Desk