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While livestock farms create large volumes of their own organic manures which can add much needed nutrients back into the soil, many farmers are still not getting the best out of this resource.
SAC Consultant Donald Dunbar says: “Too often farmers see slurry and manure as a waste product they need to get rid off. We know that used correctly it can reduce the need for fertiliser which will save money, and of course reduce the pollution risk. However while many farmers will spread their manure on their fields they still add a normal application of bag fertiliser as well, seeing the manure as little more than a bonus treatment.”
The message was given at a recent Farming for a Better Climate Event held in the Scottish Borders. Rumbletonrig, a 341 hectare farm near Greenlaw, run by John Mitchell and his family, is one of the Scottish Government’s new Climate Change Focus Farms. Over the next few years meetings will be held at farms across Scotland which aim to introduce farmers to ways they can lessen their environmental impact while maintaining, or even increasing, profitability.
Rumbletonrig is a mixed enterprise and as well as growing barley, wheat and oats, the Mitchells have 250 sheep and 300 beef cows. While they create and use a significant volume of manure Chris McDonald, a Senior Agricultural Consultant with SAC Consulting, believes they can make far more of it through using it in the right way at the right time.
He says: “The slurry and manures at Rumbletonrig have an equivalent nutrient value worth around £14,000. We will be working with John and son Stephen to work out where best to apply the manure, when to apply to manure and how much to apply to get the valuable phosphate and potash nutrients back where they’re needed most. That way he can save on his purchased fertiliser which will help both his bottom line and the natural environment.”
Farmers throughout Scotland could benefit similarly if they begin to think about their slurry and manure as a valuable resource and carefully plan how to use it.
Donald explains: “In some fields the nutrient status may already be quite high which means rates of slurry or fertiliser can be reduced, so it’s important that farmers take a more targeted approach. The nutrient level depends on the crop which has just been in the ground, if you have just cut grass for silage for example you’ll have removed a high amount of potash from your soil which manure can help replace.”
For the Farming for a Better Climate team the key to helping farmers adopt greener practices is to highlight just how positive making these changes can be for the farm.
Donald says: “What we need to do is speak to farmers as much as we can and explain how beneficial this can be if they do it the right way. We need to get them to break old habits, and we know old habits die hard. But it is worth it, for them and for the land they are farming.”
The project is funded by Scottish Government and is part of the wider Farming for a Better Climate programme which sets out to raise farmer awareness of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The next meeting of the three year project will be in November. Further details of the programme can be found at www.farmingforabetterclimate.org. For more information on slurry management please contact Chris McDonald at email@example.com or on. For more information on Farming for a Better Climate contact Rebecca Audsley at Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org.