Management notes for February 2020

Date published: 07 February 2020

Management Notes are prepared by staff from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). CAFRE is a College within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

Target slurry spreading onto silage fields that have tested low for phosphate and potash


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Nutrient management

You can reduce your fertiliser bill this spring by making best use of soil nutrients and available slurry, but still grow good crops of grass for silage and grazing. As fields have not received fertiliser since mid-September or slurry/farmyard manure from October they are in the ideal state for sampling. This is the last opportunity to carry out soil analysis before spring slurry application.

Soil sampling augers and bags are available from your local DAERA Direct Office. You should sample each field. If the field is more than four hectares sample each four hectare block within the field. When sampling a grass field walk it in a ‘W’ pattern taking at least 25 cores using a 75 mm auger. Place the samples in a bucket as you take them. Avoid sampling headlands, dung pats or areas around gates and water troughs. Mix the samples in the bucket thoroughly before putting 300 g of mixed soil in a sample bag. Call into your local DAERA Direct Office now to book an auger for immediate sampling.

You should receive the results within a week and your local Development Adviser can help you interpret them. Use the DAERA Online Services CAFRE Crop Nutrient Recommendation Calculator to calculate specific field requirements, whilst keeping within the Nutrients Action Programme Regulations. The calculator takes account of the time and method of slurry application when calculating how much fertiliser nitrogen (N) to apply for first cut silage.

As a general rule grazing fields have phosphate (P) and potash (K) recycled by grazing cattle. Apply slurry therefore to land that is used for silage, targeting fields that have tested low for P and K. This makes best use of the soil and slurry nutrients helping to avoid nutrient shortfalls where there is greatest demand.

Take account of N in slurry when deciding how much fertiliser to apply for first cut silage later in the spring. There is unlikely to be a yield response to applying a total of more than 120 kg of N per hectare for first cut. If using a trailing shoe or shallow injection system to apply the slurry you will almost double the efficiency of N use.

The optimum index of 2+ for P and 2- for K will maximise crop yield from the most economic use of inputs. Further applications of P or K to soils with above optimum indices are not cost effective. In addition applications of phosphate above the recommended rates increases the potential for P to be lost to our waterways and will be in breach of the Nutrients Action Programme Regulations.  

When selecting fertiliser consider using stabilised urea that will reduce nitrogen losses. See environment notes for more information on stabilised urea.

February checklist

  • Although the closed period for spreading slurry has ended you can only spread it if weather and conditions are suitable. Do not spread slurry on waterlogged ground, when raining heavily or when heavy rain is forecast within the next 48 hours, on ground with a slope of 20% or more, on ground that is frozen or covered in snow. During the month of February buffer zones for slurry spreading are increased. See environment notes for more detail.
  • If using chemical P fertiliser or P rich manure soil analysis results should be available and a fertilisation plan prepared and kept up to date. If importing anaerobic digestate you will need a nutrient content analysis.
  • If operating under a nitrates derogation please see environment notes for more information.
  • From the start of this month any anaerobic digestate should be spread using Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE).
  • Review soil analysis results and plan nutrient requirements based on soil status and crop requirement.
  • Complete any maintenance on cow tracks and paddock fencing in preparation for the grazing season.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould


Prepare for lambing

As lambing season approaches ensure all the necessary supplies are in stock. These include iodine solution for navels, lubricant, gloves, lambing aids, powdered colostrum substitute or frozen colostrum, stomach tube and/or feeding bottles. A lamb warming box is also useful for reversing hypothermia in newborn lambs. It works by circulating warm air within the box. Regularly monitor the temperature in the box aiming for a temperature of 38.5oC.

Approximately half of lamb losses occur in the first 48 hours after birth, with 30% occurring between scanning and lambing. Being prepared reduces losses and stress during the busy lambing period. Lambing pens should be at least 1.2 m by 1.8 m. Allow one pen for every eight to ten ewes. The number depends on the expected lambing spread. Provide plenty of clean straw as this will keep levels of infection in the shed to a minimum.

An adequate intake of high quality colostrum by lambs as soon as possible after birth will increase lamb survival rate. Colostrum provides the newborn lamb with a vital source of energy. The immunoglobulins in the colostrum also provide immunity to disease. As the immunoglobulins are specific to pathogens in your flock, colostrum from your own ewes is superior to any replacement colostrum brought in. An appropriate feeding regime pre-lambing, based on scanned litter size and time until lambing will ensure good quality colostrum is produced. Newborn lambs require 50 ml of colostrum per kilogramme of body weight within the first four to six hours of birth and 200-250 ml per kilogramme weight within the first 24 hours. The latter is equivalent to approximately one litre for a typical twin lamb weighing 4.0-4.5 kg.


Calf health

Spring calving will start soon on many farms. Scour is a major threat to young calves, accounting for approximately 50% of calf deaths up to one month of age. There are two types of scours; infectious and non-infectious. The latter refers to nutritional scours which are not caused by pathogens and cannot be spread between calves. Infectious scours can be sub-divided into three categories; viral, bacterial and protozoan.

Viral scours caused by, for example Rotavirus, Coronavirus and BVD can only be controlled by preventative means such as vaccines and maintaining a clean environment. Antibiotics do not work against these specific pathogens, however they are often prescribed to control secondary bacterial infection. The main causes of bacterial scours are E-coli and Salmonella. Protozoan scours caused by Cryptosporidium and Coccidiosis are a problem on many farms. They are extremely contagious and difficult to remove from the environment.

Develop a control strategy for scours on your farm in consultation with your vet. Some of the pathogens can be controlled by vaccinating the cows. This is generally done three to 12 weeks pre-calving. The immunity is then passed via the colostrum to the calf. If the calf does not receive colostrum from a vaccinated cow they will not gain the immunity. Good hygiene in the sheds is also important. Talk to your vet when purchasing disinfectants to make sure you are targeting the pathogens relevant to your farm.

Purchased replacements

Breeding your own replacements is the best policy from an animal health perspective. Where this is not possible, it is important to have an appropriate quarantine protocol in place to avoid introducing certain diseases to the rest of your herd. Ask the vendor about previous anthelmintic treatments or vaccinations. Consult with your vet as to any further treatments which may be required before mixing with your herd. If you need to buy in replacements source them from a reliable herd of known health status.

End of the closed period for slurry spreading

You can now spread organic manures and chemical fertilisers provided ground and weather conditions are suitable. Target slurry on fields showing low P and K indices in soil analyses or fields that do not normally receive slurry/manure.


Prepared by: Jason McFerran

Are you thinking about tax?

As we are now in early 2020, it’s a good time to think about how the farm business is going to look at end of the 2019/20 tax year. There is still plenty of time to plan how to manage your tax liabilities for the current year and plan for the year ahead. If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend you make an appointment with your accountant or tax adviser.

It is important to consider options for reducing your tax liabilities and using any money available wisely to benefit your business. If you are reading this thinking you will be faced with a significant tax bill this year, it is a good sign; tax means you have made a profit. But it is important you pay the correct amount of tax you are liable for. I have outlined a few options to help plan so you do not pay too much or too little tax. These will benefit your business, other family members or charitable organisations.

Paying off debt

Over the last few years many farm businesses had to extend overdrafts and merchant credit to manage cashflow. Paying off debt when you can is important. We don’t know what the markets or weather will throw at us in the years ahead so it is better to repay debt in the better times to reduce the financial burden in hard times. Speak to your bank manager and work out a plan to pay off your debt when you can.

Capital investment

The Annual Investment Allowance has been increased from £200,000 on 1 January 2019 to £1 million until 31 December 2020. This makes investing in plant or machinery an attractive option for reducing your tax liability. It is good practice to have a machinery replacement policy for your business to allow you to plan ahead and structure your capital spending. Any proposed purchases require careful consideration; is it needed and is it part of a plan? It does not make financial sense to buy equipment for the sole purpose of reducing your tax bill! In most cases, repayments will be spread over several years and cashflow must be available to cover those costs going forward.


The Government encourages us to save for our retirement by providing tax relief on pension contributions. For personal pensions you pay income tax on your earnings before you make a contribution to the pension. However, your pension provider will claim back, at the basic tax rate of 20%, your contributions from the Government, adding it to your pension. If you are paying a higher rate of tax, you can claim the tax back either through your tax return or by contacting HMRC. Your accountant or financial adviser can also advise you on options for setting up trusts for your children or grandchildren.

Charitable giving

Making a donation to a registered charity is perhaps something you already do. If you are a sole trader or a partnership you can take advantage of the tax reliefs on gifts of money to charities and can claim them on your Self-Assessment tax return.

Paying tax

Remember that you pay only a proportion of your profit in tax and the rest can be saved or invested for when you really need it. The deadline for paying tax is 31 January for tax on profits made in the previous tax year. For example tax due on 31 January 2020 is tax owed on profits made during the 2018/19 tax year. Your tax demand may also include a ‘payment on account’ which is the first of two estimated part payments for the current tax year’s liability. The second ‘payment on account’ is due on 31st July each year. It is important to remember that tax owed on a year when profits are good is often due during a year when profits are lower and so it is important to budget for your tax payments.

Farmers whose business is unincorporated have the option to average their profits for tax purposes over any two or five consecutive years with the averaged figure being used to work out their income tax liability. 

Farming incomes can be significantly volatile between one year and the next. Averaging irons out these peaks and troughs. 

Averaging profits over the relevant number of years and treating the average profit as the taxable profit means you can offset good profits in one year against smaller profits or losses in another. This reduces the risk of a business being hit by a high tax bill in a bad year when cash flow might be tight and in some cases they can even generate tax refunds.


Prepared by: Robert Edwards

Stabilised urea - an alternative source of nitrogen fertiliser

Stabilised or protected urea products are gaining more and more interest with NI farmers. Research has shown that ammonia emissions are reduced by 78.5% when stabilised urea is used instead of straight urea, whilst also maintaining yields similar to Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN).

Stabilised urea reduces ammonia emissions because it contains a urease inhibitor such as NBPT. Use of a proven urease inhibitor slows the breakdown of urea to ammonia. This better suits the needs of the growing crop by allowing it more time to utilise the fertiliser.

In summary stabilised urea:

  • Releases much lower amounts of ammonia that standard urea
  • Has lower Greenhouse Gas emissions than CAN fertiliser
  • Produces similar yields to CAN in trials throughout the growing season, including in dry conditions
  • Is approximately 20% cheaper per kilogramme N than CAN

Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment

The 1 February 2020 saw the start of the first piece of legislation regarding the use of Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE) to protect air and water.  From this date all anaerobic digestate must be spread using LESSE. This legislation will then apply to other groups as follows:


  • 15 June 2020: Slurry on derogated farms must be applied using LESSE after 15th June each year.
  • 1 February 2021: Agricultural contractors employed to spread slurry must use LESSE.
  • 1 February 2022: Slurry to be spread using LESSE on cattle farms with 200 or more livestock units and pig farms with a total annual livestock manure N of 20,000 kg or more.

Currently when the inverted splash plate is used 80-100% of all N is lost to air as ammonia. LESSE can reduce these losses by up to 60% if slurry is applied using the trailing shoe system and 30% if a dribble bar system is used. LESSE is also useful in reducing run-off into waterways.

Slurry spreading during February

The closed period ended at midnight on 31 January. Manure application can resume provided weather and ground conditions are suitable. Under the revised Nutrient Action Programme 2019-2022, for the month of February the setback distances or buffer zones are increased from:

  • 20 m to 30 m from lakes
  • 10 m to 15 m from any other waterway
  • 3 m to 5 m from any other waterway if using Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE) in fields with an incline of less than 10% or the adjoining field is less than one hectare in size or not more than 50 m wide

The maximum allowable application rate has been reduced from 50 m3 per hectare to 30 m3 per hectare (4,500 gallons per acre to 2,700 gallons per acre) for this period.

During February take care to ensure these increased distances and reduced rates are observed when spreading slurry, to prevent possible nutrient run-off into waterways and comply with the new regulations.

Derogation applications for 2020

Derogation allows farms with a N loading of more than 170 kg N per hectare per year to operate up to the higher limit of 250 kg N per hectare per year. The nitrogen and phosphorus (P) excretion rates for cattle have been revised with effect from 1 January 2020. For many dairy farmers and large beef producers this change may result in N loadings in excess of 170 kg N per hectare per year for 2020. Now is the time to check your N loading and apply for a derogation.

Farms under derogation must:

  • Maintain at least 80 % of their farmed area in grassland
  • Have a P balance of no more than 10 kg P per hectare per year
  • Submit a fertilisation account to NIEA online
  • Prepare and keep a fertilisation plan each year
  • Complete an online application

Additional changes applicable to 2020 derogation applications:

  • At least 50 % of the slurry produced on the farm should be applied by 15 June. Slurry applied after the 15 June each year should be applied using LESSE, such as a dribble bar, trailing shoe, trailing hose, soil incorporation and soil injection.

The CAFRE Nutrient Calculators can be used to help with N loading and P balance calculations.




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