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Sharp Decrease in Fertilizer Usage

“National usage of the major nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium on grassland and agricultural crops is at its lowest level in decades”, was the message emerging from the latest Fertilizer Use Survey Report published by Teagasc. The survey was conducted by the Teagasc Environment Research Centre in Johnstown Castle in conjunction with the Teagasc National Farm Survey Unit, and it details the fertilizer usage for grassland and a range of tillage crops for the period 2004 to 2008.

The survey shows a sharp decrease in fertilizer use by farmers. National usage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium during this period has decreased by 20%, 40% and 37%, respectively. While almost all crops showed decreased fertilizer inputs, the extent of the decrease was more dramatic on grassland than on tillage crops. The improved efficiency of nutrient recovery from animal manures; increasing costs of fertilizers; decreasing product prices and farm income; decreasing livestock numbers; and regulation of nutrient usage; have probably all influenced nutrient usage to varying extents during this period.

The overall tendency towards reduced fertilizer inputs may have both positive and negative consequences in the future. While reducing nutrient surpluses in farm systems may be desirable in order to reduce the impact of agriculture on the rural environment, nutrient deficits will eventually compromise soil fertility levels, potentially restricting crop and animal performance.

On the impact of the decreased fertilizer usage on the agricultural sector, report author, Stan Lalor, warned that “reducing fertilizer usage is a positive step in reducing costs to farmers, and has the desirable effect of lessening the impact of agriculture on the rural environment. However, nutrient deficits will eventually compromise soil fertility levels and potentially restrict crop and animal performance in the future. It should not be done at the expense of soil fertility and the future production capacity of soils. The decrease in P and K usage is a particular cause of concern. Ensuring that soil fertility levels are sustained and balanced into the future remains a key priority”.