Soil sampling

It’s coming to that time of year when thoughts turn to fertiliser purchases again. Prices have eased a little since last year but are still very high in relation to margins in beef enterprises. Many farmers reduced fertiliser applications in 2022 and 2023 with very little effect on grass growth.

Farmers I spoke to felt they were probably spreading too much anyway, and that the reduced application was a better use of funds in the last two years. This is a risky strategy, especially if you were cutting back on P and K applications.

Decreasing soil fertility on a long-term basis will have an impact on yields and will mean you won’t be getting the full value out of any nitrogen spread.

Sit down and draw up a plan about how you are going to navigate another year of high fertiliser prices. Silage fertiliser is the biggest volume requirement on drystock farms, and it’s really important that sufficient silage is made to avoid any potential deficits in feed next winter.

If you haven’t taken soil samples in the last two years, arrange to have some taken from your farm before any slurry is spread. Soil sampling is really good value for money and it will highlight the areas of the farm which need to improve.

A lot of farmers got caught out this year where they wanted to import slurry from dairy or pig farms but didn’t know their correct P allowance so couldn’t import.

Liming of soils increased in 2023 on drystock farms and needs to increase more in 2024. Increasing soil pH above 6.3 will help increase soil nitrogen release and reduce fertiliser requirements.

Having your soil at the correct pH will also help increase both the efficiency of any fertiliser spread, and the amount of P that is utilised from any slurry applications.

Profit Monitor

Taking a look back at the previous year’s physical and financial performance is important when it comes to trying to do better in 2024.

There is no point sticking your head in the sand thinking that poor financial performance will go away without making changes to your system and management.

Put the time aside before the end of January to gather up all sales and input dockets from 2023.

Make an appointment with your Teagasc adviser to complete the profit monitor and make a follow up appointment to assess the performance. This is not a box ticking exercise.

The scorecard report is very useful, as it highlights areas where performance is good and areas where it is poor.

Make a list of five changes that you will undertake in 2024 to improve performance and stick it somewhere visible as a reminder. Cross them off when completed.

Fresh Feed

Where animals are on a high level of feed or are being fed ad-lib, it is essential that troughs are kept clean at all times. Where feeding a total mixed ration, don’t discharge fresh feed out on top of stale feed.

Where feeding ad-lib, make sure that troughs are kept clean at all times. For animals on high concentrate diets, it’s important that diets don’t change suddenly as this can cause digestive upsets and really hit thrive.