Reports from farmers and merchants indicate that a large percentage of sheep farmers have not yet advanced decisions on purchasing fertiliser with many still hopeful that prices will ease back significantly.

The chances of this materialising in the short term appear very unlikely with growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine keeping a firm floor under global prices.

As such, farmers now need to advance decisions on purchasing fertiliser, including exploring credit terms, if required.

Many merchants are not prepared to carry the exposure of the higher prices and smaller merchants, in particular, do not have the leverage to purchase in high volumes and have it sitting in the yard as is generally the case in other years.

Those who are purchasing to have supplies available in small quantities for customers who generally purchase as they need it in March and April may not be able to offer the same volumes as in recent years.

Therefore, it is important to speak to your merchant on the credit front and on likely supplies. It is also worthwhile exploring credit terms in other financial institutions.

Initial demand

As highlighted at the recent Teagasc lowland sheep conference the advice for farmers is to purchase fertiliser that they need for the first two grazing rotations.

This will reduce a farm’s exposure and give an opportunity to benefit if prices fall significantly as the year progresses.

The conference presentation delivered by Teagasc outlined several practices that sheep farmers should undertake with these summarised, as follows.

  • Soil analysis: there has never been a greater potential payback from having up to date soil analysis available. This will allow informed decisions on what fertiliser to apply and importantly identify the soil pH status.
  • Lime applications: Teagasc reports that a high percentage of soils on drystock farms are deficient on three fronts – soil pH, potassium and phosphorus. Applying lime and lifting the soil pH will free up nutrients tied up in the soil and greatly increase the efficiency of applied nutrients. Research shows the potential for a grass production response of at least 1t/ha grass dry matter from liming alone. Increasing soils to the optimum pH can release up to 80kg N/ha/year with an application of 5t/ha lime capable of providing similar grass yields as applying 40kg/ha P fertiliser on soils with a low pH.
  • Fertiliser programme: sitting down and documenting the volume and type of fertiliser purchased in 2021 and reviewing the timing of application will set the foundations for a similar programme for 2022. This will help to identify if fertiliser type can be tweaked to reduce fertiliser costs with Teagasc advising farmers to forego applying compound fertilisers in 2022, with the exception of silage swards which are very low in P and K and on reseeded swards to protect your investment.
  • Target productive swards: the cost of fertiliser will be far greater than actual purchase prices, where soils and swards are not capable of utilising applied nutrients efficiently. Therefore, targeting young and productive swards that achieve the greatest response will deliver the best value for money.
  • Reduce demand: Teagasc is advising farmers to plan to apply 80% of their normal fertiliser requirement without affecting output through better grazing management and grass budgeting. For some highly stocked farms this will not be an option and such farms are being advised to review their stocking rate with a view to selling unproductive stock.