Over 400 farmers attended the recent CAFRE Slurry Management open days to hear how they could improve the management of slurry on their farms. Two events were held at the Dairy Centre, Greenmount Campus and on the farm of Ian McClelland near Banbridge.
There were six stops at the events where those attending learned about technologies, innovations and decision support tools to enable them to make best use of this valuable resource whilst eliminating any negative impact on the environment.
Each event began with an introduction from Mark Scott, Head of CAFRE’s Sustainable Land Management Branch, who pointed out the key sustainability challenges facing agriculture and the fact that good slurry management can help to address these challenges.
Aveen McMullan, Senior Technologist, CAFRE explained how slurry is an important source of nitrogen, phosphate and potash, nutrients required to grow grass and crops. Aveen described how dry matter, time of application, equipment used and soil fertility can affect the availability of nutrients.
With an extra 0.3kg/m3 of nitrogen available for plant growth when applying slurry in spring using Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE) compared to using a splash plate in summer.
Gareth Beacom and Andrew Thompson, CAFRE provided a practical demonstration of the measures that farmers should take to maximise the value of slurry and ensure that nutrients do not enter waterways. Referring to the Nutrient Action Programme (NAP) regulations, Gareth showed how increased buffer zones (15m or 5m if using LESSE) should be observed when spreading near waterways during February.
Consideration of ground conditions and weather forecasts are vital before spreading any manures, to ensure that fields have the capacity to absorb the nutrients and ensure that heavy rain does not wash nutrients into nearby streams and rivers.
Gareth also emphasised that slurry application should be timed to coincide with expected grass growth, noting that grass growth in spring is dependent on soil temperatures rising to 5oC.
Andrew illustrated how forward speed has an impact on application rates, using a simple formula, based on forward speed, bout width and time to empty a tanker he showed how to calculate the forward speed required to achieve a desired application rate.
This was followed by presentations from Rachel Megarrell and Joe Casey, CAFRE focusing on the benefits of using nutrient management planning to target slurry at low index fields where it is needed and reduce the need for chemical fertiliser.
Soil analysis results such as those provide by the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme are the starting point for good nutrient management according to Joe.
Rachel Cassidy from AFBI used the results of high-resolution water quality monitoring to demonstrate the link between rainfall and loss of nutrients, particularly phosphorus. Steep slopes and soils with impeded drainage are vulnerable to runoff and losses from land to water during rainfall events.
Focusing on the causes of poor water quality, Gareth Greer, NIEA and Brian Ervine, DAERA Environmental Farming highlighted elevated levels of phosphorus in rivers and lakes leading to algal growth and damage to habitats. NI agriculture continues to operate at a significant phosphorus surplus, a situation which the farming industry must address through better slurry management.
Finally, Jonathan McFerran and Gavin McQuaid, DAERA Green Growth outlined a number of ongoing slurry management projects centred around on-farm separation using mobile equipment and centralised processing to produce energy and other products for use in NI and for export.
It is clear given the farmer turnout at these events that the industry is keen to use all innovations, research and decision support tools available to improve slurry management. This will enable them to maintain output with a lower level of chemical fertiliser input and at the same time improving water quality across Northern Ireland.
CAFRE have developed a webpage devoted to slurry management which contains information and links to the tools, information and advice to help farmers who wish to manage their slurry more sustainably. Further information and guidance on slurry management.
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