Lakeland Dairies recently held three well attended SoilSmart demos which were kindly hosted by Clive Reed, Mullagarry, Castleshane, Co. Monaghan, Raymond Scott, Caughoo, Co. Cavan and Jimmy Maloney, Redmondstown, Castlegeoghan, Co. Westmeath.
Clive Reed is a supplier to Lakeland Dairies and the family have a pedigree herd of 80 Holstein Friesian Cows. Average yield is an impressive 8,000 litres/cow and Clive is a member of the Breffni Oriel IHFA club. This farm is one of three monitor farms across the Lakeland Dairies catchment area that embarked on a soil improvement programme in 2013.
Speakers at the soil improvement workshops included Alan Hurst, Technical Manager with Lakeland Dairies Agribusiness, Enda Duffy from the Lakeland Dairies Dairy Development programme and Dr. David Atherton from Thomson and Joseph in Britain.
According to Alan, “Our most efficient grassland farmers are growing and utilising in excess of 12 tonnes of dry matter per hectare, yet our national average for the utilisation of grass is approximately 7 tonnes dry matter / hectare. Through the soil improvement programme, our primary objective is to grow and utilise more grass which in turn will reduce concentrate feed usage and lead to a higher level of efficiency and profitability being achieved at farm level”.
In SoilSmart, (part of the Lakeland RumiSmart Sustain programme* ) Alan says, “we are taking a more detailed look at the chemical, physical and biological properties of soils and introducing practices such as the physical aeration of soils and the treatment of slurry to increase the production potential of our soils. On our monitor farms we are also mapping progress over time by measuring a number of key performance indicators which include grass utilised in tonnes per hectare, Kgs solids produced per hectare, milk from forage and grazing season length.“
Enda Duffy told the farmers present that they had analysed almost 6,000 soil samples through the Lakeland Dairies soil sampling initiative. Enda presented the findings from the initiative and illustrated how farmers could make better use of slurry and bagged fertiliser. He also made the point that less than 20% of soils sampled had an optimum pH which meant that 80 % of the soils sampled needed lime in order to maximise the response from bagged fertiliser.
Speaking at the SoilSmart demos, Dr. David Atherton said, “Approx. 70% of grassland farms in Britain have some level of soil compaction which can reduce grass yields by up to 40%. Compacted soils take longer to warm up in the springtime, which means grass growth is delayed and these compacted soils also hold more surface water. He also highlighted the importance of the correct Calcium: Magnesium ratio in the soil which is required to maintain a good soil structure.”
Dr. Atherton discussed the benefit of soil aeration and composting slurry so as to improve grassland production and reduce fertiliser costs. He also spoke on the importance of earthworm activity in the soil and the use of it as an indicator of the overall biological health of the soils. He said that soil improvement is something that needs to be worked on continuously rather than assuming that a significant shift can be achieved in a short period of time.
On the Reed farm, soil compaction was initially identified as a problem and for that reason the land has been aerated several times with a McKenna aerator which is manufactured in Northern Ireland. It has 76 seven inch shark fin blades and the contractor charge is around €50 per hour or approx. €5/acre. Clive and his father Sam who is still active on the farm are delighted with the results of the SoilSmart programme.
According to Clive, “We are growing more grass which means we’re spending less on concentrates and we’re getting a much better response from expensive fertilisers. This year we intend increasing our stocking rate and all going well we should be able to carry an additional 10 to 15 cows on the grazing platform”.
Another innovation has been the addition of the biological digesting agent “Digest It” to the slurry which significantly reduces the ammonia in the slurry (a lot less smell says Clive) and is kinder to earthworms (coming back bigtime says Clive) and soil life. Composting slurry will increase the available Nitrogen by approximately 33% and also increases the available phosphorus and potassium levels in the slurry which means it pays for itself.
“Another benefit of adding Digst It to the tank is that it reduces crusting on the surface and makes the slurry easier to mix and spread”, said Clive. There is a faster response to the slurry spread which means grazing can take place after 14 days if conditions are ideal. The Digest –IT liquid composting agent only costs around €2/cow per month so it is very cost effective.
The workshop included a number of digs in various fields to look at the structure, smell and colour of the soils on the Reed farm. There was a lot of interaction and relevant questions from the farmers present which indicated a lot of interest in the topic of soil improvement.
Alan Hurst on behalf of Lakeland Dairies Agribusiness wrapped up proceedings by thanking the Reed family for hosting the event and David Atherton for his technical presentation. Alan also suggested that all interested farmers should talk to their Lakeland Dairies Feed representative to find out more about the soil improvement programme or any of the other components of the Lakeland RumiSmart Sustain programme for that matter.
For more information on this exciting and innovative new system , please talk to your local Lakeland Dairies Feed Representative or contact the Lakeland Farm Services centre on 1890 47 47 20 (ROI) or 028 302 62311 ( NI).