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Why LESS is more

In week 5 of Teagasc Waterford/ Kilkenny Sustainability Series, Eamonn Lynch, Dairy Advisor outlines the benefits of using Low Emission Slurry Spreader (LESS) techniques on your farm. You can make better use of your slurry, reduce your chemical usage & improve the environment all in one application.

The application of Slurry on Irish farms was often seen as a chore, something that needed to be done to relieve the pressure on slurry storage systems in late winter or early springtime. The traditional method of doing this job for the last 30 to 40 years was by means of slurry tankers with splash plates.

However things are changing at a very fast rate which is part due to knowledge built up through some excellent research and the use of low emission slurry spreader (LESS) techniques by innovative farmers. Another factor which is also having a large effect is regulation and the largely publicised percentage of ammonia emissions which is attributed to Agriculture (98%).    

How do farmers reduce these figures?

Through research and development of the Teagasc  Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) for ammonia, it is now known that by adopting LESS technology on Irish farms and switching 50% of our CAN based fertilisers to protected UREA, that through these measures alone , we as an industry can mitigate against around 80% of our 2030 targets to reduce Ammonia emissions.

It is estimated already that in the space of two short years we have gone from 2-3% of our national slurry application using LESS to over 10%.

However we need to do even better if we are to meet the recent climatise roadmap targets which set our usage of LESS at around 90% by 2027.

To achieve these targets we need to know and understand the benefits.

  1. LESS increases the Nitrogen (N) recovered from Slurry
    There is a large loss of nitrogen when using a splash plate as the slurry is spread over a large area which leads to bigger losses from the weather, wind and the effect of the sun. The process of loss is mainly through Ammonia volatilization, the nitrogen in the form of ammonia is potentially a dangerous pollutant to both human health and the environment as well as being a substantial economic loss from the farm.LESS reduces the spread width by minimising the surface area to which slurry is applied and puts the slurry directly on the ground/soil. Research shows that by changing to LESS technology that the overall ammonia N losses can be reduced by up to 60%.

    In terms of the fertiliser value compared to the traditional splash plate based system, one thousand gallons with LESS will give on average 50% extra nitrogen compared to a splash plate. Financially the extra nitrogen alone is worth €5 per one thousand gallons. So at two thousand gallons per acre, this is equal to €10 per acre just for the extra fertiliser before you factor in the savings on chemical fertiliser application.

  2. Another large benefit is the flexibility of slurry applications on grazed pasture with lower levels of contamination and faster recovery of grass / silage swards. Another advantage of the system, especially the use of trailing shoe is that you can potentially apply slurry to heavier grass covers.

    The opportunity to apply slurry to grazed paddocks is where I really see LESS coming into its own, Up to now the splash plate was very limited because the grass, depending on weather conditions was often contaminated especially in tight rotations. However, with LESS you can spread in tight rotations and cows can graze the grass better compared to after slurry is applied using the splash plate.

  3. More accurate application with LESS give farmers the confidence to replace expensive compounds with home sourced organic fertilisers. This is a win win for farmers and for the public as there is less odours and possible run off into water courses.

The initial cost of the system is very dependent on what system is already on the farm re trade-ins etc. However with the TAMS grants currently available this will help to offset the capital costs and if it doesn’t suit, most contractors now have the LESS systems.

In summary, you can make way better use of your slurry, reduce your chemical usage and improve the environment all in one application! 

If you missed the any of the previous articles & videos in the Sustainablity Series you can view them below: