A few years ago when a discussion group was visiting the farm, the adviser with them mentioned to me that it was like there are two different systems running on the farm.

The cow side is low-input while when it moves to the finishing side, and in particular the young bulls, inputs are a bit higher. Even then, the principal cost is ration and that is usually under 1.2t each.

There isn’t much fine-tuning that can be done regarding costs on the bulls really, so the focus has been on maintaining production as much as possible with the cows while chipping away at costs. That has been the direction of the farm over the last few years – things like setting certain constraints for the herd and culling those who can’t keep up have helped.

Being bred within a certain time and cutting down ration use to under 2kg/cow/year would be chief among the parameters a cow needs to meet in order to stay on.

The spike in input prices this year forced the brain into overdrive to see how costs could be kept under control.

Deciding to put confidence in the working knowledge of clover I’ve built up meant fertiliser costs came firmly into focus.

I’d acknowledge that it is easier to do on a drystock farm with good clover content than, say, on Gerald Potterton’s tillage acres in Co Meath where yield would be more directly hit by reducing fertiliser too much.

Six months ago, the plan regarding fertiliser was to limit spending to the same level as last year. That benchmark was reached extremely fast.

Like other years, slurry would be the go-to fertiliser option for the beginning of the year and artificial fertiliser was targeted at silage ground.

The way the year has played out to date means the situation regarding fertiliser is now moving to how much will be left over.

Silage stocks are north of 80% of what is required with the second cut to come.

There was a big surplus from last year but counting the 2022 crop of bales, there’s 65% of what’s budgeted for in the yard.

The nitrates stocking levels to the end of May 2022 were 160kg of organic N/ha

I held off on making any short-term decisions on silage and fertiliser until rain landed at the weekend and will see what effect that has first.

The stocking rate isn’t on the floor either.

The nitrates stocking levels to the end of May 2022 were 160kg of organic N/ha. I looked up the nitrates reports to the same time of year back as far as 2012 and on one occasion I had the same figure and twice it was surpassed.

Every other year I was below the current level, significantly so in a good few cases but I was using multiples of the level of fertiliser compared to now.

Maybe the decision to push the soil sampling and take a bigger interest in clover is paying off.

By 28 June, I had 500kg of 19.0.15 and 675kg of urea spread across the whole farm.

My curiosity made me dig out the diary from 2012. The nitrates report was at 141kg of organic N/ha while fertiliser use to the end of June that year stood at 6,150kg of urea and 850kg of 19.0.15.

It’s safe to say there have been a lot of on-farm learnings over the last decade.