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Manure Applications and Storage Practices on Irish Farms

Farmers are applying over half of total slurry produced on farms in the early season, helping to maximise the efficient use of Nitrogen. This is one of the key findings of a Teagasc National Farm Survey report on manure application and storage practices on farms in the Republic of Ireland.

“Fifty two percent of all slurry, in total volume terms, was estimated to be applied between the end of the closed period for slurry spreading in January and April 30th,” notes Dr. Cathal Buckley Economist, on the Teagasc Agricultural Catchments Programme. This trend of greater early season application is encouraging from a Nitrogen use efficiency perspective. Research from the Teagasc Johnstown Castle Environmental Research Centre has shown that the best time to maximise the nitrogen from cattle slurry is from a spring application. A spring application can increase the nitrogen value by approximately three units per 1,000 gallons and can offset against yield stresses like drought. Given the recent chemical fertilizer price trends slurry can offer an economically efficient source of nutrients, especially P (Phosphorus) and K (Potassium).

The survey, which was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, recorded details of manure applications on almost 1,000 farms. Results showed that across all farm systems approximately 60 percent of slurry was estimated to be recycled back to conservation ground (hay/silage), 37 percent to grazing land with the remaining 3 percent applied to maize or tillage crops. These figures indicate an increasing trend towards slurry applications on land used for livestock, possibly substituting some of the chemical fertilizer in these grazing rotations.

Additionally, 4 percent of all farmers indicated that they imported slurry and/or farmyard manure onto their farm. Tillage farm systems are the most likely to be importing, with almost 20 percent of tillage farmers reported importing organic fertilizers in 2009. Of those importing, three-quarters reported importing pig slurry. “Maximising the use of organic manures can significantly reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and can substantially reduce farm level operating costs,” said Dr. Thia Hennessy, Head of the Teagasc National Farm Survey.

The report also indicates an increasing number of farmers are starting to engage with newer slurry application technologies. A total of 6 per cent of dairy farmers reported using the trailing shoe method of slurry application.

The survey also looked at investment in soiled water storage on dairy farms. It found that:

  • Only 4% of farms had no soiled water storage. These were mainly dairy farms with very small herds or tillage or drystock farms that didn’t need storage because they didn’t generate soiled water.
  • Large investment in soiled water storage between 2003 (17% dairy farms) and 2009 (56% dairy farms) on dairy farms.

 

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