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Rocket Fuel for Crops? – South East Farmer – James Short

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Arable farmers have become increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable farming systems. There continues to be much topical discussion on how to improve soil fertility, increase yields and reduce crop production costs. Expenditure on fertiliser represents a significant proportion of the variable costs to grow crops, and farmers should consider the long-term benefits when utilising livestock manures as a source of nutrients for crop production, writes James Short, arable agronomist at Hutchinsons.

Omnia Manure Management

Experience has shown that organic manures provide a readily available source of nutrients and can enhance the natural productivity of soils, facilitating a successful move to reduced tillage cultivation systems.

Poultry manure is perhaps the most complete organic fertiliser an arable farmer can apply and is often referred to as "rocket fuel" by growers who have used chicken manure on their own farm. It is important farmers appreciate the nutrient content of the manure they are applying and adjust bagged fertiliser rates accordingly.

I recommend growers adopt the OMNIA farm management software from Hutchinsons to produce manure management plans, risk maps and record manure and fertiliser applications to remain compliant and within current NVZ regulations, where applicable.

The high nitrogen content of poultry manure makes it ideal for autumn application pre – drilling oilseed rape or second wheat crops. It is important to plan ahead and apply poultry manure where the maximum benefit is achieved in the rotation. For spring applications, maize and potatoes are particularly responsive to poultry manure while spring cereals, rape or linseed will also utilise the available nutrients. Applying nitrogen stabiliser products such as N-Lock or Vizura can further improve the efficiency and crop uptake of nitrogen when poultry manure is applied in the spring.

A typical application of 10t/ha Layer Manure (30% DM) will normally provide up to 95 kg/ha nitrogen, 85 kg/ha phosphate and 85 kg/ha potash - all readily available nutrients to the crop following application. Poultry manure also provides sulphur, magnesium, calcium and trace elements Practically, it is advisable to apply poultry manure before drilling and incorporate by cultivation to ensure the best results and utilisation of the available nitrogen. The current NVZ regulations should always be adhered to, and it is worth noting that certain restrictions will also apply to biosolids, compost and other livestock manures.

High yielding crops remove significant quantities of potash and phosphate, particularly where straw is baled and removed. It is important to replace these nutrients and it is worth checking the status of your own fields to ensure yields are not limited by available nutrients or locked up by soil acidity. Soils vary within fields, and I cannot over emphasise the need for determining soil type previous applications of organic manures and accurate soil sampling. Likewise, an analysis of the organic manure being applied will ensure its nutrient value is taken in to account when planning fertiliser applications.

Fertiliser prices continue to fluctuate as the markets follow world demand, exchange rates and energy costs. With nutrient prices remaining firm, locally sourced poultry manure should be considered as a valuable resource and is now much in demand from farmers who value the long-term benefits of applying organic manures.

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