The sharp increase in fertiliser prices will add €10 to €15 to the cost of keeping a ewe in 2022.

This prediction was delivered by Michael Gottstein, head of Teagasc’s sheep programme at part one of this year’s Teagasc Lowland Sheep Conference, which was held virtually on Tuesday evening.

Gottstein’s presentation discussed options that farmers could adopt to reduce production costs while still maintaining high levels of output.

He outlined that for a 30ha farm stocked at 10 ewes per hectare and following recommended fertiliser application rates, the cost of nitrogen fertiliser will increase from €3,331 in 2021 to €7,742 at current prices.

When combined with higher concentrate charges and a significant rise in energy costs, it has the potential to erode the 21% gains achieved in family farm income in 2021.

Key actions

Gottstein outlined several key actions farmers should consider and stressed that the objective in 2022 should be to grow enough grass to feed stock and ensure that sufficient silage is made for next winter.

All farmers were advised to soil test where recent analysis is not available, with this being central to correcting soil pH via lime applications and releasing significant quantities of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) locked up in the soil in recent years.

Gottstein suggested that farmers might be able to cope with applying 70% to 80% of their normal nitrogen requirement

Completion of a fertiliser budget to highlight exactly what fertiliser was used in 2021 and what is absolutely necessary in 2022 was outlined as another critical component to managing costs.

In this regard, Gottstein suggested that farmers might be able to cope with applying 70% to 80% of their normal nitrogen requirement.

He added that fertiliser programmes take “a P and K holiday” for some areas of the farm, with compound fertilisers only applied where absolutely necessary, such as on reseeded ground or silage ground deficient in P and K.

A full report will be printed on next week’s sheep pages. Part two of the conference, focusing on health, takes place on Thursday 27 January at 8pm.