If you have not collected sufficient soil fertility data, how do you know what is holding you back? That is the question raised by Jon Telfer, development manager at Yara Analytical Services, who believes in going ‘beyond the basics’ with better use of testing and data analysis.
Soil, leaf and muck analysis are just one example of today’s precision agriculture tools which can help you make better informed decisions that can directly improve your farm’s bottom line.
Jon Telfer says: “If you are not currently testing or then fully utilising the results you receive, I urge you to make the best use of that information.
"Discuss your results with your agronomist; with some fairly straightforward changes you can potentially make a big difference to yield.”
Basic nutrient availability tests are well adopted in the arable sector. it is now time for farms to look at other parameters which will impact on-farm production, most importantly the three pillars of soil fertility:
Nutrient availability – A basic soil test only checks pH and the level of major nutrients. Go beyond the basics by always opting for a broad-spectrum test which will also assess key micronutrient reserves. Remember, a deficiency in even one single nutrient can impact on yield and quality
Soil type – A laboratory laser diffraction analysis will accurately determine the sand, silt and clay proportions which define your soil’s texture. It is important to have a firm understanding of your soil type, and the variation across your farm, as this will impact on how applied nutrients behave and so inform decisions, for example lighter soils are more prone to leaching so you may alter timings and regularity of fertiliser applications. Equally, heavy soils can lock up nutrients so it may be that you adopt a foliar approach and bypass soil problems altogether
Organic Matter (OM) – Active soil biology is vital if a soil is to remain fertile. OM provides the habitat and food source for the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, arthropods and nematodes which build soil structure and breakdown organic residues. This converts soil-borne nutrients into a form which are available to a growing crop. The addition of OM analysis to your soil testing schedule gives you a clearer picture of the levels in your soils and the effectiveness of any applied organic amendments.
The seminar's theme is based on 'measure to manage'.
Come and listen to the expert debate, or visit the Yara stand and discuss how broad spectrum analysis, covering all three pillars of soil fertility, can make a big impact on your farm for little investment.
A desire to improve cropping decisions and create a more efficient business, led to the eager adoption of technology at Molescroft Grange Farm, east Yorkshire.
Starting with the N sensor in 2007, managing director Tamara Hall – true to her engineering background – has always seen the value of ‘measuring to manage’ on this 627-hectare family farm. Here we ask how she approaches the task:
Why is accurate decision-making so important to you?
My engineering background makes me see the farm in an objective way, not emotional, never clinging to tradition due to lack of confidence in new technology. Also, we have had a lot of livestock on the farm in the past, this leads to varied soil types and fertility which makes testing financially worth doing.
Which soil or tissue tests do you regularly conduct on-farm?
We test for P, K, pH and Mg – doing one test per hectare to create maps for variable fertiliser application – and we have conducted micronutrient tests, but fortunately nothing needed addressing. These soil tests will be backed up by foliar tests in 2017 to further check these nutrients which are clearly in the soil are actually available for uptake. We have also conducted organic matter tests and, as a result, have included three- to four-year grass leys to increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. The best thing we have done is check the soil type – this has taught us a lot.
What have these tests shown?
That soil condition is our limiting factor. We found the P and K results did not correlate as well as we expected with yield and we think this is because of our soil structure and drainage. We want to tackle these big things but also aim to look at leaf testing in 2017. I want to be able to address problems before plants show signs of any deficiency.
How have you utilised this knowledge?
Since starting testing in 2006 we have been able to reduce P and K use getting levels to where they should be (indices 2, 2.5). Now we just need to replace offtakes.
What benefits have you seen as a result of measuring?
Quantifiable results are always difficult – our yields are affected a lot by weather – but scientific research show plants yield better at the correct indices. Also we are no longer applying fertiliser where it is not needed – and where it might leach – so we are not wasting inputs.