Last week the Footprint Farmers met online with the Irish Farmers Journal’s specialist team to discuss all things soil and fertiliser.

There were plenty of questions, comments and good advice and in this article we’ve compiled some of the main take-home messages.

Among the advice was for farmers to order some fertiliser and have it in the farmyard so when you need it you have it in stock. It won’t be as easy this season to go into the local merchant and return home with 2t of fertiliser when spreading time comes around.

Soil pH remained a key talking point on the webinar and while we may be growing tired of advice on soil pH, it cannot be underestimated.

Dairy editor Aidan Brennan said farmers who are succeeding with clover on their farms, a key measure in nitrogen fertiliser reduction, are paying huge attention to soil pH and getting their readings to 6.5.

Andy Doyle commented on how increasing soil pH with the application of lime can bring phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) indices up a level as nutrients become more available. Correct soil pH can also help to maintain indices, so where someone has a P index of 3 and is cutting applications due to high fertiliser prices, the correct soil pH may help to keep that soil index at the optimum level.


Adam Woods said beef farmers may not be in the position or the mindset to pay high prices for fertiliser, but that they will have to bite the bullet soon in order to have fertiliser when they need it.

He noted that 8t of urea has been purchased on the Irish Farmers Journal’s Tullamore Farm to have some fertiliser in place for grazing to make sure they have enough for the first and second round.

He fears drystock farmers will cut fertiliser rates dramatically for silage ground and low-yielding silage crops may create a fodder shortage in spring 2023.

Adam said fertiliser recommendations haven’t changed with the need for approximately 100 units N/ac, 16 units P/ac and 70 units K/ac. However, costs can be cut by using slurry efficiently.

Some 2,000 gallons/ac of cattle slurry (9-5-30 per 1,000 gallons) will almost fill your P and K requirements.

He said farmers should consider where they can access slurry and to begin planning slurry requirements for second-cut silage now. He urged farmers to target the slurry to fields where it is needed, rather than just spreading beside the farmyard.


Darren Carty noted the good covers that are on the ground at present and urged farmers to do the sums when it comes to spreading fertiliser. He said that if fertiliser isn’t spread or is spread at lower rates then farmers may end up feeding excessive concentrate levels thereby increasing costs and workload.

Darren noted those good grass covers need to be utilised. He added that there is a place for targeted feeding of younger or older ewes to conserve grass and isolate yourself somewhat from fertiliser costs. A joint approach of targeted feeding and spreading fertiliser may work best for many, especially if soil fertility is inadequate and swards are poor performing.

Darren advised farmers to target fertiliser to the swards which give a response – new swards or swards with good pH, P and K.

Darren also said the high fertiliser price year may help to put the focus back on lambing dates and indeed calving dates to make sure that you are making the best use out of grass.


Looking at the Footprint Farmers’ soil sample results, Andy Doyle noted that boron levels are very low across the majority of samples and warned farmers trying to grow brassicas, cereals or clover that boron deficiencies may affect growth and the crop may struggle. As soil pH rises, all nutrients become more available, especially levels of P and K.

On the fertilisation of winter cereals, Andy noted that he would generally aim for nitrogen application in late February or early March, but winter barley is a slight exception. Andy said crops might benefit from 5kg N/ha to prevent crops losing lower leaves, which farmers may see turning yellow at present as they try to feed newer leaves.

Andy said there is an opportunity to save 100-120kg N/ha this spring on some oilseed rape crops , when the green area index is assessed, as many have already taken up large amounts of nitrogen into their big canopies.

On risk mitigation he said: “We don’t know where prices are going to go but where you’re going to commit to a significant quantity of expensive fertiliser then you probably should be trying to mitigate that risk by selling a percentage of grain forward.”


Aidan Brennan said fertiliser advice for spring will have to be very farm-specific. He added that farmers turning out animals around St Patrick’s Day or towards the end of March are unlikely to get good value from an early application of nitrogen.

However, those on a high stocking rate on their grazing platform will most likely need early nitrogen for turnout in early February. He noted 23 units N/ac in early February could grow 300-400kg DM/ha by the end of March. Across 100ha, if this is not spread, approximately 40t of silage or significant quantities of concentrates will be needed, which would be expensive.

Aidan said: “No matter how expensive fertiliser is, it’s still cheaper than the alternatives.”

He cautioned farmers to pay attention to the forecast and while temperature is important it will fluctuate a lot, the biggest thing to look out for is heavy rainfall and fertiliser or slurry spreading should be avoided ahead of a heavy rainfall event.

Key points

  • Correcting soil pH can increase nutrient availability and increase or maintain indices.
  • Look for organic manures nearby which may help to reduce fertiliser costs and improve soil health.
  • Have some fertiliser in the farmyard ahead of spring time in case stock is hard to get.
  • Consider the cost and labour involved in feeding concentrates and silage where fertiliser rates are cut.
  • Utilise heavy grass covers or nitrogen which has been taken up in tillage crops over the winter time.