There is an old adage about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
It would be rude to apply this to farmers when it comes to fertiliser, but it is worth reflecting on whether the full value of fertiliser is being gained from every kilo applied.
No matter what the price per tonne, using fertiliser on crops will add value. As a broad generalisation, the value of extra crop harvested will be three or four times the cost of the fertiliser applied.
So, how can the maximum value be extracted from the fertiliser applied?
Ian Richards, who operates the FACTS Information Service, points to some key factors including applying the optimum amount of fertiliser, applying a rate that takes account of the residual nutrients in the soil, applying fertiliser accurately and avoiding losses from the soil.
These are all factors that are included in the initial training of FACTS Qualified Advisers (FQAs) and their continuing professional development.
As the rate of fertiliser application increases, so does crop yield – but only to a point.
There comes a point where the yield response per kilo applied falls and eventually stops.
Using dose response curves, advisers aim to recommend a rate that will be optimum, not maximum. Applying an optimum rate will ensure the optimum value of return for any form of fertiliser.
As fertiliser prices have increased, so more attention is being paid to the nutrient residues that exist in a field, but more can be done for farmers generally to
gain more value. This is especially true in businesses with livestock enterprises.
“Manure is a valuable resource,”
says Mr Richards. “Farmers with access to manures should plan where they are applied for best return, rather than see manure as something which needs to be
disposed of on the nearest field.”
Soil analysis is a vital tool in optimising fertiliser value.
Equipped with a detailed analysis, FQAs are trained to tailor fertiliser recommendations to match nutrient supply with crop requirement.
On some farms, where certain fields have been regularly manured, phosphorus and potassium indices may be excessively high and ‘nutrient holidays’ can be taken for a year or two. And if nutrient levels are excessively high, then farmers can risk coming to the attention of the Environment Agency if nutrients run off soil or through drains and into watercourses.
Correct product choice and application timing also plays a part in optimising value from fertiliser. Matching nutrient availability to crop need is another factor in optimising performance.
Finally, precise application will affect returns. This year’s FACTS online assessment covers accurate application and how to calibrate a spreader.
With increasingly sophisticated technology, it becomes easier to apply fertiliser at variable rates and to avoid overdosing at headlands and short workings.
Ultimately, gaining the full value from fertiliser boils down to sound advice and know-how, which farmers can obtain from FQAs, or they can train to become FACTS qualified themselves. A significant proportion of farmers make up the 4,000 members on the BASIS professional register who have attained the FACTS status.
And, because fertiliser is valuable, be sure to lock it up, especially nitrogen fertiliser. The recent explosion in Beirut highlights the need for secure storage and assured supply.
Farmers should only buy from merchants who are part of the Agricultural Industries Confederation’s Fertiliser Industries Assurance Scheme and follow the five point plan on purchase, storage and use developed by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office and promoted by the NFU and others.