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Stirling Soil Nutrient Network: 1st Meeting Event Summary

The first meeting for the group at host farm Aucheneck Estate was hailed as both ‘informative and worthwhile’.

With 24 visiting farmers, the response to the newly formed Stirling Soil & Nutrient Network was encouraging.  It is great to see so many who hope to improve their farm productivity and profitability from small improvements to soil management!

Host farmer Campbell Graham opened up proceedings detailing the farm's background and the current management systems in place which proved to be very insightful.  The first presentation involved soil specialist Seamus Donnelly (SAC Consulting) explaining the Jack Munro leading the Stirling Soil & Nutrient Network meetingenvironmental and financial effects of soil compaction.  He explained how easy it is for farmers to identify the issue in their own fields.  He also discussed the various methods currently in place to improve the soil structure and reduce compaction.  Campbell revealed that he keeps small ‘tackle’ (tractors and trailers) for this very reason.  Before short interval, there was a display of the on-farm machinery including an: aerator, subsoiler, weed wiper and seed drill which were all thoroughly discussed.  The machinery ‘thought for the day’ was that in order to ensure maximum benefit from these attachments they require the right time of year, the right weather conditions, be correctly set up and utilised at the right speed.  It was stressed that if this was not done properly more damage could be done to the soil with a waste of farm resources and labour in the process.

In the afternoon, Jack Munro (SAC Consulting) opened up the 2nd half of the meeting with a presentation about the necessity of lime to maintain and increase soil pH, suggesting if soil pH is too low or too high, plants cannot uptake many vital elements and nutrients.  NPK fertilisers will not then be utilised effectively.  Having the correct pH is a key step in improving soil usability.  The different lime products available were also discussed. With regards to purchasing limestone, it is important to note the ‘Neutralising value’, ‘reactivity value’ and ‘fineness of particles’ which are the three main factors that influence lime quality.

SAC Consulting's Lorna Galloway took the remaining time to bring everyone outside to the to the wilted silage fields to speak on the productivity of silage leys.  The key message was to know roughly the percentage of the grass and weed species in the sward and whether poor performing varieties (and weeds) are dominating; to then consider spray off and reseed with higher value mixes including Perennial or Italian rye grasses providing the soil fertility is right. It is important to bear in mind the need to have good seed to soil contact for a good sward establishment.

Take home messages:

  • The efficiency of NPK in the take up of plants is improved by liming appropriately.
  • Don’t lime within three weeks of spreading slurry to avoid ammonia release into atmosphere and loss of Nitrogen. Know your soil type(s) to understand the impact of compaction as some soil types cope better than others.
  • Rainfall levels and soil type also have an impact on the ground pH and result in the frequency of liming differing for each farm.soil aerator
  • Bear in mind every crop whether it is: silage grasses, brassicas, cereals etc.  All require optimum pH and nutrient levels to successfully yield their best.
  • The humble spade is one of the cheapest, yet most under used tool a farmer has! Digging through your soil to do a Visual Examination of Soil Structure (VESS) only takes minutes but can highlight many potential problems.
  • Monitor the performance of your grassland.
  • Old leys can be cost effective provided the pH and nutrient levels are optimal. However, it also depends on the percentage of productive grasses in the sward and the type of animal grazing/benefiting from the sward. For example, cast ewe’s verses growing lambs.

This was the first of three meetings of the Stirling Soil & Nutrient Network. There are 12 host farms across Scotland and you can read about their farm events from the Soil & Nutrient Network page.
All meetings are open to all, free to attend and attendance at previous events is not required to allow attendance at future meetings.

The next nutrient management meeting will focus on: nutrient management in relation to FYM, Slurry applications as well as conventional fertilisers, attempting to reveal best practice and cost savings of each method as well as nutrient planning for the farm.


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