Springtime is a good time to consider actions for the year ahead. There are a variety of options to consider including planting a new hedge or some trees, assessing soil fertility, and fertilising wisely while also protecting any watercourses on the farm. Targeting early turnout, weather and ground conditions depending is a good target to have.
Consider doing one, or a variety of, the following:
- Plant a new hedge using native species of hedging, such as whitethorn (hawthorn) mixed with dog rose, guilder rose or hazel perhaps, to help improve biodiversity, up to the end of March while plants are dormant. Read more
- Plant some trees of native species such as willow, birch or whitethorn which can support between 200 -300 invertebrate species. It is important to emphasise that plants grown from seed in Ireland are in tune with our seasons unlike planting a non-native plant imported from abroad where it acts differently.
- Assess soil fertility: Ascertain if soils are at optimum pH levels and optimum phosphorous (P) and potassium levels (K) before spreading fertiliser to ensure only to apply fertiliser that is required. This can also be a cost saving measure, particularly with the recent and ongoing inflation of fertiliser costs. Consult an advisor to develop a Nutrient Management Plan for your farm. Apply lime (based on results) as soon as possible to mobilise nutrients from the soil.
- Fertilise wisely: Ensure that any straight nitrogen (N) is spread as protected urea and optimum use is made of farm yard manure (FYM) which can be a valuable source of N, P and K, releasing nutrients over longer period than chemicals (Horse FYM can provide 4-5 kg N/tonne; upwards of 1kg P/tonne; and variable K). Where there are issues with parasites, or for example rhodococcus equi on a farm then it would be advisable to have FYM analysed prior to spreading to avoid exacerbating such issues on a farm. Effective composting is critical to a temperature above 40 degrees Celsius (102 F).
- Protect watercourses on the farm: Observe appropriate buffer zones from drains and watercourses when spreading fertilisers and only spread when soil temperature is consistently above 6 degrees Celsius, soils are not saturated, and weather forecast predicts no heavy rainfall for at least 48 hours, longer on poorer draining soils. Only take machinery to ground that is dry enough to prevent damage and compaction. Read more
- Target early turnout: (weather and ground conditions depending) to kick-start the grazing season and reduce dependence on concentrate feeds. Ensure stocking densities are appropriate to the size of the farm and permit rotation of paddocks during the grazing season.
- Assess energy use: Identify where energy is used. Prepare a checklist to look at lighting, heating systems, ventilation, water heating and so on. Consider installing additional meters to provide usage data for individual buildings. Simple actions like changing light bulbs to LEDs can make significant energy savings. Solar panels for water heating might be an option worth considering. The Microgeneration Support Scheme (MSS) , which aims to secure380MW of renewable electricity into the electrical grid by installing panels on approximately 70,000 buildings, may be worth investigating. Read more energy auditing advice here.