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Creating a fertiliser plan – why it’s needed and how to get one completed

Creating a fertiliser plan – why it’s needed and how to get one completed

Getting a fertiliser plan should be a priority for every farmer in 2024, writes Tim Hyde, Environment Specialist at Teagasc, who details why it’s required and the process of having one completed.

Every advisor in the country has helped clients this spring to answer the many questions on the topics of: ‘what fertiliser can I buy’, ‘how much can I buy’, and ‘why is the company selling me fertiliser asking me what are my limits?’.

This has created an unprecedented demand for fertiliser plans, otherwise known as a Nutrient Management Plan (NMP), which advises the best fertiliser type and amounts of different fertiliser products for the farm. Along with the introduction of the National Fertiliser Database, an increase in soil sampling and farmers aiming to improve soil fertility and farm and field level has further raised the demand for the creation of fertiliser plans.

The introduction of the National Fertiliser Database (NFD), to which 95% plus of farmers have registered for, means that all farmers and/or their advisors submitted a closing stock of fertiliser left on the farm on 14 September 2023 and had a month after that date to submit these online records. Even farmers not using fertiliser need to register for the NFD.

Since that date, all fertiliser delivered to farms is now recorded online in the database and all co-ops, companies or fertiliser traders that are registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) have to make regular returns to the database of the herd numbers that bought fertiliser, the date, type and amount in tonnes of fertiliser purchased.

This collection of data has created concerns amongst farms, the end user, on the possibility of exceeding their fertiliser limits. Common questions include: ‘what will happen if I exceed my limits, will I be penalised and how much could this penalty cost me?’. Additionally, some sellers of fertiliser have been asking farmers to have a list of their fertiliser limits for 2024 for the farm, so they can supply the products that will ensure there is no excess fertiliser bought.

As many farmers are unaware of the total fertiliser limits for their farm, and given the above, this is where the process of completing a fertiliser plan in conjunction with your advisor has its merits. Before engaging with your advisor on having a plan completed, however, there are number of important details you will need to gather first.

What details are needed to do a fertiliser plan for 2024?

  • BISS application to show what crops are being grown in 2024 (grass or tillage crops);
  • The areas of these crops. Every crop has different allowances for Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P);
  • For grassland crops, the previous year’s grassland stocking rate (GSR) is used to determine the allowances for N and P
    • The total N from grazing livestock divided by the grassland area in 2023 = 2023 GSR needed for the completion of a fertiliser plan;
  • The total tonnage of concentrate fed to grazing livestock in 2023 and the total N from grazing livestock;
  • Is there soil samples available for the farm (to be able to use soil samples in the fertiliser plan in 2024, the soil samples must have been analysed since 15 September 2020);
  • What fertiliser type and amount were carried into 2024 from 2023;
  • What fertiliser type and amount have been bought so far in 2024;
  • What organic manures have been imported in 2024 or planned to import in 2024.

A suggestion for all farms is to make sure you know what the fertiliser type and amount can be used in 2024, and every year from now on. It is better to know now then to find out during an inspection that too much fertiliser has been spread. Getting a fertiliser plan should be a priority for every farmer in 2024, so you can make the decision without the worry of accidently exceeding the fertiliser limits specific to your farming circumstances.

Important things to understand for buying fertiliser in 2024

  • If tillage lands have no soil sample, they are not allowed to spread Phosphorus fertiliser and cannot import organic manures onto these areas;
  • Farms with a grassland stocking rate >130kgs N/ha (in 2023) without soil samples cannot spread Phosphorus fertiliser and cannot import organic manures;
  • All farms are required to have a fertiliser plan and the lower stocked farm fertiliser limits are very low and more than one bag of 18-6-12/acre is enough to breach the limit.