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National Soil Fertility Week - Getting the Balance Right

National Soil Fertility Week, to highlight the positive impact of soil fertility management on farms, will take place next week, from 6-10 February. Organised by Teagasc and the Fertilizer Association of Ireland, this soil fertility campaign will highlight the role of soil testing and soil fertility management on farms. “You don’t feed your animals without knowing their conditions – so why do it to your soils?” This will be the question asked of farmers.

Trends are now emerging that soil fertility levels are declining as a result of reduced fertilizer usage in recent years. The proportion of soils being analysed with low fertility levels has increased by over 30% in the last four years, according to Stan Lalor of Teagasc, Johnstown Castle. Soils with low fertility have lower productivity and result in higher fertilizer input costs. For example, research work has shown that low soil phosphorus levels can cost the farm an average of approximately 1.5 tonnes of grass dry matter production per hectare per year. At current feed prices, this is potentially worth up to €400 per hectare. Managing soil fertility is the key to ensuring that the production potential of soil is optimised with economically sustainable fertilizer inputs.

Mark Plunkett of Teagasc said that soil fertility management on both grassland and tillage farms can be improved by following five simple steps:
1) Have soil samples taken for the whole farm.
2) Apply lime as required to increase soil pH up to the target pH for the crop.
3) Aim to have optimum soil P and K fertility levels in all fields. At optimum fertility levels, nutrients being removed in products need to be replaced. High fertility soils are a resource and should be exploited. Low fertility soils need to be nurtured.
4) Start by using organic fertilizers as efficiently as possible, then top up with fertilizer as required.
5) Make sure the fertilizer compound is supplying nutrients in the correct balance for the crop, the soil, and to complement other fertilizers being applied.

Implementing these simple steps will go a long way to ensuring that the production potential of the farm is being realised, and that fertilizer inputs are being utilised as efficiently as possible.

During National Soil Fertility Week, there will be 3 events taking place around the country highlighting these messages:
• Tuesday, 7 February (2 - 5 pm) – Horse and Jockey Hotel, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Fertilizer Association of Ireland Spring Scientific Meeting: “Role of Fertilizer and Soil Fertility in Achieving Food Harvest 2020 Targets”.
• Wednesday, 8 February (2 - 4.30 pm) – Field event. Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway.
• Thursday, 9 February (2 - 4.30 pm) – Field event. Teagasc, Kildalton College, Piltown, Co. Kilkenny.