Autumn grazing plans

Reports from farmers and advisers indicate that there is very little fertiliser being applied at present.

This is primarily down to the high cost, but also partly due to drought conditions, with some producers holding off from spreading fertiliser until they receive rain.

There are many farmers in this situation who also have no plans to apply fertiliser or if they do, it is at a significantly reduced rate.

This will have significant implications on a farm’s ability to build autumn covers and decisions taken over the next week need to be mindful of the knock-on consequences for the coming months.

Highly stocked farmers are the most exposed as feed demand needs to be met and in some cases there are more lambs on farm.

Even at current prices applying 10 to 15 units of fertiliser to boost grass growth rates will be more economical than being in a position of tight grass supplies and having to resort to feeding high quantities of concentrates to finish lambs or introducing supplementary feed to ewes much earlier than planned.

Decisions need to be taken sooner rather than later as the longer the review process is pushed out the less opportunities there will be to keep autumn grazing plans on track.

If applying fertiliser on a portion of ground, the best response will be achieved from targeting more productive swards and drier areas capable of achieving higher levels of grass utilisation.

There will be a benefit from strategic concentrate supplementation in many cases and the best response will be achieved from targeted feeding and tailoring feeding rates to the lambs based on their potential performance.

While on the subject of building covers, hopefully rain that is forecast over the next week will get farms suffering from a serious soil moisture deficit back on track, rather than falling in a deluge and bringing risks of flash floods.

These farms will need to continue with alternative plans put in place in recent weeks to give covers a chance to build.

Lime applications

It is also an opportune time to consider how applying lime can be of benefit and boost grass growth rates in the short and longer term.

Increasing the pH on acidic soils (optimum of 6.3 or greater on grassland soils and 6.5 or greater on arable soils) will free up nutrients locked up in the soil which will generate a boost in productivity, while bringing the pH back on track will significantly increase the response from applied nutrients.

Fertiliser is expensive, but the true cost is much higher where volumes are being applied on soils with a low pH. Applied phosphorus is especially at risk of being locked up and unavailable to the growing plant in acidic soils.

An application rate of 7.5t/ha (3t/acre) should not be exceeded in a single application, with the general maintenance application ranging from 2.5t/ha to 5t/ha.

Optimum lambing date

You also need to consider whether your flock’s lambing date is still the most suitable, with production systems fully exposed next spring to higher fertiliser and concentrate costs.

If your farm is usually under significant pressure for grass supplies and high volumes of concentrates need to be fed to bridge the gap until grass growth sustains feed demand, then it is worth reviewing breeding and lambing dates.