The vast majority of drystock farmers are not fully up to speed with the new regulations around fertiliser usage, a farmer survey has found.

The provisional findings from a survey carried out by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) found that just 27% of those polled described themselves as “very aware” of the new rules.

In contrast, 55% claimed they were “somewhat aware”, while the remaining 18% said they were “not aware” of the regulations.

The INHFA survey follows warnings from the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) that up to half the country’s farmers are potentially exposed to phosphorus-related penalties on direct payments and environmental schemes.

Soil index levels

Worryingly, just one-third of respondents to the INHFA survey said they knew the soil index levels on all of their lands.

A further 36% said they knew the soil index levels for some of the farm, while the remaining 30% of those surveyed admitted to having “no idea” of their property’s soil index levels.

Despite the concerns around phosphate levels, 18-6-12 remains the most popular fertiliser with farmers who had purchased product, the survey found.

On a positive note, 80% of respondents said they had carried out soil sampling over the last 18 months. The remaining 20% had not undertaken any soil sampling.

INHFA president Vincent Roddy said the survey highlighted the need for more farmer-focused information and guidance on the issue of fertiliser usage.

“Once again, we care calling for assurances that farmers won’t be penalised if they inadvertently exceed their phosphorus limits,” Roddy said.

Weed control

Meanwhile, potential problems around weed control, as well as the availability and cost of feed, were highlighted by the survey as the primary factors which turned farmers off joining the organic scheme.

One-third of the 250 INHFA members surveyed cited concerns around the control of weeds, and rushes in particular, when asked why they may not go organic.

A further 22% said the increased costs of meal was the factor which dissuaded them from joining the organic scheme.

Reduced output (13%) and unsuitable land type (12%) were also factors which mitigated against respondents going into organics.

Despite these concerns, 12% of the farmers surveyed are already organic - which is well above the national average - and a further 10% indicated that they are planning to join. Another 18% indicated that going organic is something they are currently considering.