By Rick Jordan, Agronomist of Rick Jordan & Associates and Gambier Seeds
Firstly, this is not a time for panic, fertiliser IS available, it’s just expensive.
The issue is around manufacture and demand, further complicated by shipping difficulties, affecting all imported products and after significant discussion among people within the industry, the consensus is:
Fertiliser is available and will continue to be
It will be expensive this Autumn and into Winter
A drop in price is expected in this coming Spring and Summer
So given this current scenario, what can be done to optimise production on farm but not bear the brunt of the current high pricing on enterprise profitability?
1. Make a plan
Know what you need and where you need it! Fertiliser is a critical input to achieving production from your forage base. Knowing the production levels required and knowing the existing base levels of nutrients across your farm is critical to setting your fertiliser strategy.
Make the plan based only on what will need to be applied for the year to achieve your production goals. After you have determined what is required, then you can start to make strategic decisions around budget constraints and optimising the fertiliser $ spend.
2. Strategies to consider
Once you know what you need [assuming this has been determined by thorough full farm soil testing and setting of feed budgets not just guesstimates from old data collected…] On a serious note, here at Gambier Seeds, with my clients we follow a program of full farm soil testing for base nutrient levels and soil condition every three years, assessing every productive paddock on the farm. It is a fraction of the fertiliser budget and optimises the fertiliser spend every year. This process is critically valuable in a year like this, point made?
Okay, so moving on… Some strategies you can consider and employ on your farm this year:
Don’t address capital
This isn’t the year to be lifting base nutrient levels. The same level of availability of a lacking nutrient can be achieved by repeated smaller applications rather than lifting underlying base levels to make it available.
Capital applications can be made when prices return to more static levels.
Spread the applications (no pun intended)
Cost of spreading relative to nutrient applied this year is insignificant, so two or more applications or use of liquids as a more available form of the nutrient over Winter will more likely be cheaper.
Be prepared to split typical Autumn applications into Autumn and Spring applications. This allows for applications of P and some K in Autumn with additional K applied in early Spring when pricing is expected to fall.
Remember that availability of the nutrients varies; P is slower to be available and moves the least within the soil, apply the majority of P required for the year in Autumn. K on the other hand is more readily available and is most required in the Spring, consider addressing the majority of K requirement at that time
Lime / Gypsum
Where you have a pH problem or soil sodicity problem; address it this year, by doing so you can increase production from these paddocks without applying additional nutrient, therefore what is present becomes more plant available when soil issues are addressed. The response will not be as good as where nutrient is also applied, but there will still be a lift, plus Lime and Gypsum have not risen in price like other fertilisers have.
Right product – Right timing
Don’t just go with traditional products at traditional rates.
Be smart, check what nutrient you need and what is the best way/form of applying it.
For example, DAP (while very expensive) is still cheaper per unit of P (at time of writing this). Plus, you get “free” nitrogen with it. If you do go this way, ensure you don’t apply it until there is sufficient soil moisture to fully utilise the additional N. Review the product options you have and be prepared to adapt blends to meet what you require.
Right paddock – Right rates
Don’t blanket spread at fixed rates, you shouldn’t even do this when fertiliser is relatively cheap!
Pastures are the “crop” of grazing enterprise. Cropping famers are moving rapidly to yield mapping, why aren’t grazing enterprises? You target rations for various classes of stock, again why not for areas of the farm?
In the interim what this means for this year, know the paddocks that will yield the most and know the areas within those paddocks that will yield the most, address them appropriately first within the fertiliser budget.
Be prepared to vary rates and products across the farm to optimise your fertiliser spend.
Liquids through winter
A strategy we already use but is very relevant for people in the current pricing environment is using liquid products, sprayed over Winter.
Use of liquid products can alleviate temporary nutrient issues through use of foliar products to cover marginal soil levels where fertiliser wasn’t applied in Autumn.
Note I say marginal, liquids cannot address significant deficiencies.
We have developed a product, WinterGrow to use with EasyN to cut the rate of N required by nearly 30% over conventional rates. Use of liquid N in place of Urea is more efficient and potentially significantly cheaper than Urea in the current environment.
Foliar applications can be timed around using Gibberellic Acid and with Insecticides or Herbicides.
These are the core strategies I am working with for my clients, some, or a combination of these strategies employed on your farm can provide a financial/productivity benefit, or at worst optimise your fertiliser $ spend.
The primary consideration here: Fertiliser and replacement of nutrient removal for your enterprise is critical to its ability to deliver your production goals. Skimping on inputs required will have short and long-term implications to your system, do not just cut back on fertiliser use in an attempt to save money, it doesn’t work.
Speak with your local TRAC consultant today, your experts in ruminant productivity
or phone the TRAC Office on 08 8733 1888
EXPERTS IN RUMINANT PRODUCTIVITY
0427 243 319
0429 437 823
0457 243 319
To download a copy of this article, please click the link below...