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Climate Actions for October

Closing paddocks | Soil SamplingLimeHedge cutting adviceHow Big is Your Carbon Footprint?

Closing Paddocks

The most important task any dairy farmer will undertake over the next two months is to ensure that the farm is closed up correctly. You need to plan the last rotation to ensure an adequate supply of grass early next year.

  • Aim to start the last rotation in early October; this date will vary a small bit according to grass growth, soil type and to a lesser extent stocking rate. For farms with more difficult soils, closing up should have begun in late September. Later closing reduces spring grass supply.
  • The first closed paddocks will carry most grass over the winter period; most of these paddocks will not be grazed until March, when more cows are calved and grass intake is rising.
  • The most critical paddocks to close up correctly are those needed for the “rainy day” next spring. These paddocks are typically drier, square in shape, have entrances from the roadway on two sides with multiple access points, and have good access to water. These should have a medium cover of grass next spring (800- 1,000kg DM/ha), so should be closed in late October. Identify four or five of these paddocks on your farm to set up for the “rainy day” next spring.
  • Finally, your target should be to have 60% of your grazing platform closed by November 1 (70% for higher stocked farms).

Soil Sampling

The results of a soil analysis are only as good as the sample on which it is based. To give reliable advice, a soil sample must be representative of the area sampled and be taken to a uniform depth (10cm).

The principle of soil analysis is to determine the average nutrient status of an area and to give a measure of the available nutrients in the soil. A sample normally consists of 0.25 – 0.5 kg of soil and this is taken to represent the entire sampling area or field.

  1. To take a soil sample it is essential to have a suitable soil corer
  2. Ensure soil cores are taken to the correct sampling depth of 100 mm (4”)
  3. Take a soil sample every 2 to 4 ha. (5-10 acres)
  4. Take separate samples from areas that are different in soil type, previous cropping history, slope, drainage or persistent poor yields
  5. Avoid any unusual spots such as old fences, ditches, drinking troughs, dung or urine patches or where fertiliser / manures or lime has been heaped or spilled in the past.
  6. Do not sample a field until 3 to 6 months after the last application of P and K and 2 years where lime was applied.
  7. Take a minimum of 20 soil cores, mix them together, and take a representative sub-sample for analysis, making sure the soil sample box is full.
  8. Take a representative soil sample by walking in a W shaped pattern across the sampling area.
  9. Sample fields at the same time of the year to aid comparisons of soil sample results and avoid sampling under extremes of soil conditions e.g. waterlogged or very dry soils.
  10. Place the soil sample in a soil box to avoid contamination and write the field number and advisor code on the soil box with a black permanent marker.

Lime

Now is the ideal time to apply lime to correct soil pH on mineral soils. Lime will bring many benefits from increasing the availability of soil nutrients (N, P, K & S) to improving soil structure (aeration & drainage). Soils maintained at a soil pH 6.3 to 6.5 will release up to 70kg N/ha/year from soil organic N reserves. This will help reduce chemical fertiliser nitrogen (N) bills on farms by approximately €70/ha/year. Lime will increase the availability of soil phosphorus (P) and is the first step to improving / building soil P levels cost effectively. Maintaining the optimum soil pH will in addition increase the response to applied N, P & K in either organic manures such as cattle slurry / FYM and N, or bag fertilisers such as 10-10-20 / 18-6-12 etc. 

Over the coming days/weeks check soil test results and apply lime to fields based on lime recommendations. Target fields with the lowest soil pH first and apply lime where the opportunity presents for example after grazing paddocks, 2nd / 3rd cut grass silage or at reseeding time. Soils maintained at the optimum soil pH 6.3 will grow approximately 10 to 15% extra grass during the growing season. Ground limestone is the cheapest and most cost effective tool to control soil acidity in the long term. Apply a maximum of 7.5t/ha (3t/ac) ground limestone in a single application.  

Hedge cutting advice

What Teagasc advise farmers on hedge cutting depends on the hedge type. Firstly, any escaped hedges which have grown up into a line of trees – Teagasc advise to side trim only and not to top. Secondly for any hedges that have been topped, Teagasc advise to let them grow up to a height of 1.5m or up to the height the hedge cutter can reach. And also it is advised to leave a thorn sapling in each hedge to grow to a thorn tree. For farmers in Derogation that means one in every 300 m.

Dairy farmer Tony Mullins, Ballybeg, Mitchelstown, farms with his wife Noelle. They avail of the Nitrates Derogation and rear all calves to beef along with dairy replacements. Tony likes hedges on the farm. They are a great source of shelter for animals – shelter for the birds, a food source and nesting habitat for birds and small mammals that live in the hedges.

They are important for water in times of heavy rainfall – they slow down the flow of water, and a good source of food in the autumn for the birds with all the berries. Tony has always had a keen interest in managing his own hedges.

Tony’s hedges are like our shop window- to have our farm aesthetically pleasing is important, and the consumer is looking for biodiversity and sustainability. Tony thinks that going forward, that’s the way we’ll have to manage our hedges.

How Big is Your Carbon Footprint?

In order to reduce the carbon emissions on your farm, you need to know what the carbon emissions are for your farm. The starting point for many people (54,000 farmers) will be their Bord Bia Farmer Feedback Report. 

After each audit, all certified dairy and beef farmers receive a Farmer Feedback Report from Bord Bia with their farm’s carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is the ratio of total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to total outputs of the farm enterprise.

The carbon footprint is measured as kg CO2 equivalents per kg of unit output. The unit output for dairy is kg fat and protein corrected milk (FPCM) and kg live weight gain for beef.

Your most recent carbon footprint is displayed on the first page of the report, alongside your previous audit result (where available), and the typical carbon footprint of farms within your category.

To view, you will need your herd number and the pin given at your last audit. (Call the Bord Bia Helpdesk on 01 5240410 if you need to retrieve your pin.)

 

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