Making Nitrogen Fertiliser 30% More Efficient - Tom Malleson
With new season nitrogen fertiliser prices providing no good news, has the age of cheap and easy grassland nutrition come to an end? Now is a good time to look at alternative approaches. I come across many farmers reluctant or refusing to buy nitrogen, but the consequences of this are well-documented – we all know of the yield losses in the early years of organic conversion.
The first and simplest approach for consideration should be adding a carbon source to all nitrogen applications.
Most of you will be using granular nitrogen so we will focus on Humic Acid (with foliar nitrogen, use Fulvic Acid – the same principles apply).
Humic Acid brings a multitude of benefits to soil due to its ability to improve cation exchange capacity (CEC).:
- Nutrients are more available in soil that might otherwise be locked up. Not only do we have the potential to make nitrogen applications 30% more efficient, but also make other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and iron more available to the plant.
- Improved water retention of soils, reducing evaporation by up to 30%
- Increased soil biology. Soil microbes require a carbon source for food. Humic acid provides this directly, and also indirectly – N fertilisers use up carbon in the soil, Humic Acid mitigates this. Better soil biology will lead to further improvements in nutrient availability, soil structure and moisture retention.
Humic Acid comes in a granular form and can be easily mixed with granular nitrogen fertilisers when filling the spreader, at a rate of 25kg per 600kgs of Urea/Ammonium Nitrate (this will vary depending on application rate of N).
The other strategies we need to consider as part of a more integrated approach are:
- Foliar applications – reducing leaching and volatilisation of N and enabling application during dry weather.
- Trace elements. In many cases nitrogen may not be the limiting factor. Testing soil and leaf trace elements will guide application requirements and will vary from farm to farm.
There is huge potential for financial savings if we take a more in-depth approach to grassland nutrition. Forward-thinking arable producers have been making strides in this area for a few years now. The approach will be more complex and require more tailored advice but could bring massive savings, with the added benefit of more nutritionally balanced forage. Can you afford not to?
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