The Grassland Agro soil sustainability programme is a free programme designed to improve soil health across three pillars;
– Chemical (Soil fertility)
– Physical (Soil Structure)
– Biological (Soil bacteria)
Improving soil health can deliver economic, environmental and social sustainability to farmers all across the island of Ireland. The starting point on each individual farm is to first measure and benchmark soil performance on participating farms. This allows a farm specific programme to be developed to improve soil health.
The Steps to the Programme
1– Soil Sample – The Sustainability Programme begins with a soil sample. An agronomist will call to your farm to collect recent soil samples or take samples if required.
2– Fertiliser Plan – The fertiliser plan is developed to deliver a field specific programme to each individual farm. The first fertiliser considered in the plan is lime and developing a plan to optimise pH. This is done with the farmer in order to take into account the practicalities of each farm. Every farm is different. Farmers face different challenges in respect to either pH, P or K and the plan focusses on using the right nutrient, right place, right rate and right time approach.
3– Silage Measuring – Improving grass silage is critical to increasing profitability. Before the silage is harvested an agronomist calls to the farm to perform a pre harvest assessment. Sugars and nitrates will also be tested to ensure the crop is suitable for harvest. The yield is also recorded so that the offtake of lime, P and K can be calculated and included in the fertiliser programme.
4– Soil Biology Assessment – During July and August, an agronomist will call to the farm to take a soil biology sample. This sample is sent to a lab to test the microbial activity in the soil. This report will be returned to the farmer and explained to highlight actions that can be taken to unlock the pool of nitrogen in the soil to reduce chemical nitrogen inputs while maintaining grass production.
5– Soil Structure Assessment – While collecting the soil biological assessment the agronomist will also perform a Grass VESS (Visual Estimation of Soil Structure) using the Grassland Agro Grass VESS app. This is a protocol which is used to benchmark the soil structure on farm and the quality of the roots. Improving soil structure helps to access nutrients in the soil, improves drainage and reduces nutrient losses to water.
The programme is entering its second year and is open to more farmers. Over the first year of the programme data has been collected from thousands of farms across Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. Some of the data highlights include:
19% soil samples below pH 6
36% soil samples index 1&2 for Phosphorus
43% soil samples index 1&2 for Potassium
Average silage yield 7.2 T DM ha
Average Labile Nitrogen 353kg N/Ha (range 178-443)
Joe O Reilly (Westmeath) “ The fertiliser programme was very specific and worked really well this year. I wanted to make more use of the information I had gathered from my farm through the years and the programme allowed me to do that. I have spread less chemical P and K this year, have had better grass recovery throughout the year and have plenty of silage ensiled.”
Joe also said ” I have been using Physiolith for 3 years now and it’s a super product. The deeper roots anchor the plant to the ground and have improved the structure of the soil. The solvita test showed a huge store of nitrogen in the soil so the plan going forward is to tap into that as much as I can”
The soil sustainability programme equips each participant with a detailed field specific fertiliser programme, which targets the right product, in the right place at the right rate and the right time. One of the key benefits of the programme is that each farmer is supported throughout the year with regular on-farm visits. This is done in conjunction with the farmer so that practical considerations like soil type, ground conditions and the distance from slurry tanks can be factored into the soil health programme.
The Soil Sustainability Programme is a free service available to dairy, beef, sheep and tillage farmers. Further research will be ongoing throughout the programme as a function of an exciting research project between Grassland Agro, Teagasc and UCC. Get in contact with your local Grassland Agro agronomist or email email@example.com to get involved in the programme.