19th Nov 2018
Source: Food and Farming Futures,
Wynnstay’s arable specialist, Sarah Evans, says farmers should be looking to improve grassland quality now because it will have a direct impact on livestock production profitability and feeding regimes in the spring, and the initial starting point should always be the soil.
“Ensuring your soil is the correct pH makes a huge difference to the productive potential of grassland and should always be the starting point,” says Miss Evans. “Yet, over the last thirty years, there has been a 50 percent reduction in the number of farmers liming soils.
“This has led to soils becoming acidic, which significantly impacts nutrient availability, reducing both grass yield and quality as well as the efficiency of any fertiliser applications.”
She says regular assessment is key to establish when lime needs to be applied. “It’s important to carry out regular pH testing alongside soil sampling, on a field–by–field basis, to establish where any pH imbalances and nutrient deficiencies may be.
“The target grassland soil pH is between 6.3 and 6.5 and regular applications of lime are usually needed to redress lime losses and acid build-up.”
In addition to ensuring optimum nutrient availability, Miss Evans adds other benefits of achieving target soil pH include increased organic matter and earthworm activity, which helps to improve soil structure.
She also suggests aerating soils that have become dried out and compacted over the summer.
“This will encourage rapid grass growth in spring, because it helps soils to warm up quicker, as well as allowing space for oxygen and water to permeate deeper and reach grass roots. It’ll also improve drainage and reduce slurry and fertiliser run off,” she adds.
Finally, creating a bespoke fertiliser plan will ensure the correct type and level of nutrients are put back into soils.
“Recent significant fertiliser price increases are set to continue,” says Miss Evans. “So, farmers need to maximise fertiliser efficiency by ensuring applications are targeted, rather than relying on the same fertiliser routine every year.
“Home grown forage is a cost-effective form of livestock feed that can be enhanced by going back to the basics to ensure the full potential of grassland is realised. If soil health is prioritised now, the benefits will be seen in the spring with improved grass yield and quality,” she concludes.
Contact Miss Evans on 07766 404 571 to discuss on-farm pH soil testing and agronomic advice in Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties.