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Big savings for Morecambe Bay dairy farmer

Last updated: 27 Nov 2015

Like many dairy farmers, Richard Close (pictured) struggles with slurry storage capacity. Although he is not in a NVZ area and so can spread slurry over the winter, he is not happy with the damage and compaction that this causes to the field. What's more, with fertiliser prices rising he is also unhappy to see valuable nutrients being wasted when slurry is spread during the winter._32036

Richard's 400 acre Cotestones Farm sits on the shore of Morecambe Bay near Carnforth in Lancashire. He runs the farm in partnership with his parents and it is home to the 160 strong Sparrowgill herd of pedigree Holsteins, which yield an average of 9300 litres per year at 4.0% butterfat and 3.2% protein. Cows are housed in cubicles bedded with wood shavings, something that further complicates slurry disposal.

"Because we don't have enough slurry storage we are forced to spread during the winter. We tried using umbilical spreading to reduce compaction but, because of the bedding we use and the fact that we feed a lot of maize, our slurry was too thick and sticky to pump properly," Richard explained. "And so we were left taking tankers out in all weathers just to keep the store emptied."

"Through more tailored fertiliser application and by making better use of slurry I reckon we've saved about £4,000 this year alone."

Richard was already convinced that something needed to be done when he saw an article in the press about the nutrient management plans available under the RDPE Northwest Livestock Programme.

"I thought it would be a good idea to get some advice on nutrient management and storage before we rushed into extending our tank or exploring other options," Richard said.

The slurry facilities on the farm were assessed and confirmed that the slurry had a high dry matter and higher than average nutrient values.

A number of soil samples were also taken and by combining these with the slurry analysis, a full nutrient management plan was created for the farm, detailing where and when slurry should be spread in order to make the most of the nutrient value within it.

"The soil analysis showed that our silage fields had low pH and low potassium levels, whilst our grazing fields were ok," Richard commented. "Using this information we were ale to plan lime application to address the pH issues and amend our fertiliser and slurry applications to balance the potassium levels. We were also able to save compound fertiliser use on our grazing fields as it was clear that all they needed was straight N."

With respect to the storage issues, James recommended that they consider a slurry separator rather than extending the store. Richard and his family applied for a performance grant towards the installation of a separator, and this was installed in January 2010._32037

"The separator makes sense for so many reasons," Richard explained. "Firstly, it was a lot cheaper than extending our store and gives us the equivalent of around one third more storage. Secondly, it enables us to keep the solids and spread them on our maize ground, which is the land most in need of the nutrients."

But there are other benefits too, with flexibility being a key one according to Richard.

"The separator runs on off-peak electricity so it is cheap to run, And we don't have to use it all the time - we can still use the reception pit and slurry store exactly as we previously did. What's more the liquid fraction can be easily pumped, so if we want to use an umbilical system to spread it now, then we can."

Overall the Close family have been pretty pleased with the services provided through the RDPE Northwest Livestock project.

"Through more tailored fertiliser application and by making better use of slurry I reckon we've saved about £4,000 this year alone," said Alan, Richards' father. "And that is only on part of a year. I would hope that our saving next year will be more like seven or eight thousand pounds."

And the benefits are not only financial. "It has got to be better for the environment now as we are only putting on what the soil and crops need," Richard commented. "After all, there is no point applying more of something than it needs and now we have more knowledge we can ensure we avoid that."

Richard seems confident in the benefits of better nutrient management and is now considering how to implement a rolling programme of soil testing. "I am keen to test more of the fields on a regular basis but full soil analysis can be a bit pricey," he explained. "So I have been looking at DIY soil test kits, although I've not made any firm decisions just yet."

And having had a good experience of the nutrient management planning, Richard is now applying for an animal health and welfare plan through the project as well.

"Taking part in the programme has made a significant positive difference to our business," he concluded.

Main issues

  • Slurry storage capacity
  • Slurry too thick to pump properly
  • Low pH and low K on silage fields

Solutions

  • Slurry separator - aided by RDPE performance grant
  • Lime application plan
  • More regular soil testing of fields

Plus points

  • Slurry has high DM and above average nutrient value
  • Separator runs on off-peak electricity

Benefits

  • Saved £4,000 this year on buying compound fertiliser