The Fertilizer Association of Ireland (FAI) has issued a warning to farmers, urging them to take immediate action to restore grazing and silage stock over the coming months. This is to avoid a severe fodder shortage next winter. A recent meeting of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee (NFFSC) revealed that there are severely depleted fodder reserves in the east and south of the country. The FAI stated that some farmers have been impacted by an extended period of above-average rainfall, which has led to stock being housed for longer in some areas.
Grass growth rates are down by approximately 25% this year, and fertiliser applications have reduced by 25-30% in 2023 compared to the previous four years. The FAI acknowledged the pressure on farmers as input costs remain high while farmgate prices decline. This has resulted in many farmers who may currently be “holding off” for a further drop in fertiliser prices.
The FAI has analysed the situation and found that even with a €100/t reduction in the cost of fertiliser for second-cut silage, and a reduced rate, there is still a higher cost per kilogram of dry matter (DM) produced owing to the average yield reduction seen on second cut compared to first cut. The FAI recognises that it is imperative for every farmer to take stock of soil fertility and grasp the chance to grow next winter’s fodder requirements over the coming weeks.
“The association is concerned that continuous undersupply of appropriate levels of phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulphur (S) and lime to soils already low in fertility will further compound the situation we find ourselves in. Phosphorus applications in 2022 reduced by 24% with potassium applications reducing by 26% in 2022. This is on top of a situation where 80% of soils already had inadequate soil fertility. High-yielding, high-quality crops of silage cannot be sustained under these conditions,” Dr. Tim Shiel, FAI president, said.
The FAI has urged farmers to find out how much P and K they need to apply to their fields over the season. The association has a free app to help farmers determine the requirement for their fields. The group also issued the following advice in relation to replenishing fodder on your farm over the coming months:
Where fertiliser has not been applied to date: If very heavy covers (over 2000kg DM/ha) are on silage fields and they have not received fertiliser in the last six weeks, cutting and baling this older grass should be considered. This will allow you to apply slurry and fertiliser and achieve a rapid regrowth. This crop should be ready to cut a main crop of silage again in six weeks but will not have as much deterioration in the base of the crop.
For light covers on silage fields, set a planned cutting date and apply two units of nitrogen(N)/day for each day until cutting. Apply up to 50 units of K to ensure that the crop will bulk up, especially if low levels of K were used last year. Apply P based on soil test results and within the confines of the Nitrates Directive. Apply at least 10 units of sulphur(S)/ac to increase nitrogen efficiency and increase grass protein.
Where fertiliser has been applied: Allow one day for every two units of N applied. Allow at least 50 days before harvesting. Plan for harvesting around May 30. Test standing crop for sugars and nitrate before harvesting to ensure good ensiling.
Following first-cut silage, assess if you have enough silage saved for a summer drought and a prolonged winter housing period. For second-cut silage, apply slurry where available. Set a planned cutting date and apply two units N/day for each day until cutting, allowing for N already applied in slurry. Apply up to 50 units of K to ensure that the crop will bulk up, especially if low levels of K were used last year. Potassium is very important for drought resistance as it regulates the movement and storage of solutes throughout the plant. Apply P based on soil test results and within the confines of the Nitrates Directive. Apply at least 10 units of S/acre to increase nitrogen efficiency and increase grass protein.
Where paddocks are damaged from early grazing, P is relatively immobile in the soil. However, it is vital for root development. Root development is required where pasture has been poached. At soil index two or lower (where permitted under the nitrates regulations) up to five units of P/ac should be applied to promote root recovery in the form of a blended N:P:K compound.
In conclusion, the FAI is urging farmers to act now to avoid a severe fodder shortage next winter. The association recommends taking stock of soil fertility and using the free app to determine the requirement for fields. The FAI also advises farmers to follow the recommended advice in relation to replenishing fodder on their farms over the coming months. By taking these actions, farmers can ensure they are better prepared for next winter and avoid a potential crisis.