The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) has put together its management tips for farmers as slurry tanks on many farms “remain full” following the prolonged wet spell.

According to CAFRE, farmers in zones 1 and 2 of Northern Ireland should have received their Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) soil sampling results.

Fields that have been identified as low in phosphorus (P) or potassium (K), as well as silage fields, should be targeted for slurry to be spread.

Watery slurry will be more suited to Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE) application and tanks should be diluted where possible.

CAFRE added that the SNHS would have identified the fields that are low for pH and that farmers should create a plan to correct the pH. Fields with the highest lime requirement should be targeted first.

This is because the field may require more than one application to raise the pH levels, according to CAFRE.

Correcting pH will give a “good return on investment” due to the enhanced fertiliser response rate that will be gained.

The best return for fertiliser spread during the year will be from May to July, with 25-30kg dry matter (DM) of grass grown for every kilogram of additional nitrogen (N) sown.

CAFRE added that “a 50kg bag of fertiliser could produce an additional 1.1t of silage fresh weight if growing conditions are favourable.

“This should be done on a ‘little and often’ basis, rather than applying a large amount all at once.”

The organisation added that maize drilling will also be delayed this year due to the wet spring, and that optimum drill timing depends on soil conditions, temperature and seedbed moisture.

Maize should not be drilled before soils have reached a consistent temperature for three to four days of 10 – 12°C.

Mycotoxin issues in dairy cow diets have been experienced on many units over the past two winters. Reducing soil contamination is one way of trying to reduce the mycotoxin load in silage.

Soil contamination in silage should be avoided where possible through:

  • Setting the mower cutting height slightly higher than normal;
  • Ensuring that the tedder and rake are set correctly and are not disturbing the soil surface during harvesting operations;
  • Avoiding cutting deeply rutted areas at first cut.

Following CAFRE advice, when first cut has been taken from silage fields, farmers should assess damaged areas and repair them prior to second cut.

This involves levelling ruts, over-sowing damaged areas, repairing drainage channels where necessary and earmarking some areas for aeration or a full reseed later in the summer.