Farmers attending a recent meeting in Co. Armagh were briefed on the benefits of foliar feeding grassland swards.

The technology has been widely used within the tillage sector over a number of years. However, the potential to use foliar feeding as a crop nutrition option for grass swards is only now being explored.

Trials carried out at locations in Wales over a three-year period have confirmed that the efficiency of foliar nitrogen (N) application to both grazing and silage swards can be improved by a factor of 300% and 200% respectively.

So, where an application of 250kg of N/ha was previously used with conventional fertiliser, similar yields could be achieved with 100kg of N/ha.

Foliar feeding

The work was carried out by Aberystwyth-based grassland consultant, Nigel Howells.

Not only did his trial confirm the improved N use efficiency of a foliar applied option, it also pointed to an improvement in quality, such as the significantly enhanced forage sugar levels that can be achieved by taking this approach.

The trial also indicated that using a foliar N, as opposed to a granular source, helps to maintain soil pH levels. Urea was the N source used in the Welsh trial.

The development of a foliar feed that will work under Irish conditions has been taken on by Co. Fermanagh-based Farmcare products.

The company’s Mark Crawford  explained: “An aqueous solution of ammonia is a very unstable product.

“The key to making the technology work effectively is centred on the addition of a carbon source, one that will complex with the urea, thereby making its translocation into the grass plant almost immediate.

“The work carried out in Wales, identified humic acid as the option to run with in this regard, so it made sense to follow this lead,” he said.

The new product was brought to market for their first time last year, with a significant number of farmers opting to trial it.

A follow-up survey undertaken, confirmed the following results: 60% of those farmers using the product identified a clear and obvious benefit, 30% were unsure and 10% of users had some questions about the new product.

“It is extremely encouraging that 60% of the farmers using the product last year were able to replicate the results of the Welsh trial,” Crawford added.

“This is a new technology; we knew from the outset that there would be a need to hone the application protocol. And that’s what we are doing right now.”