Soil testing to improve grassland productivity in the UK

Farmers could get the best out of their grass in 2014 and provide maximum nutrition for their stock by testing soil, says Eblex.

Farmers are advised to test their soil and apply fertilisers if necessary
Farmers are advised to test their soil and apply fertilisers if necessary

Get the best out of your grass in 2014 and provide maximum nutrition for your stock by testing your soil – that’s the advice from Eblex.

Its beef and sheep scientist, Poppy Frater, said: “Taking representative soil samples before spring, having them tested and acting on the analysis can make the difference between an average and a good grass growing year. It will also have long-term benefits for business and environment.

“First and foremost, check soil pH. For grass, the optimum range is 5.5 to 6.5 on most soils. At suboptimal pH, other minerals are less available. When soil pH falls below the optimum range, applying lime is a cheap way to improve pasture yield.”

How to take a soil test: Using a sampling auger or soil corer down to 7.5cm, take 25 plugs of soil while walking a W pattern in the field.

Send a sample of this to a laboratory, following their instructions. Sample about every five years, at least two months after fertiliser, manure or lime application, to monitor trends and the speed of change.

It is particularly important tosample fields which under-perform, are going to be reseededor where perennial ryegrass content is noticeably declining.

Interpreting results: The BRP manual Managing Nutrients for Better Returns* will help to decide what to do with the results.

First, use the soil test results to calculate the nutrient requirements according to the relevant chart in the manual for the use of the field.

Then consider the types of fertiliser available and how they can meet the recommendations.

For example: if the phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) indexes are 1, then grazed grass requires 50 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) ofP, which can be met with triple superphosphate (TSP).

This product is 46% P, so 109kg/ha is required. To supply 30kg/ha of K, Muriate of Potash (MOP) can be used which is 60% K, therefore 50kg/ha MOP would be needed.

Ms Frater added: “Alternatively, compound fertilisers or mineral nutrients, such as rock phosphate, can be used or some or all of crop requirements supplied from manures, although care is needed not to over-apply P or K. Nitrogen and sulphur are also vital for productivity and recommendations are included in the manual.”

* Download the Eblex BRP manual Managing Nutrients for Better Returns from www.eblex.org.uk/or call 0870 241 8829.

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