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Making the most of organic manure

Last updated: 10 Sep 2015

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Name: Bob Maxwell

Region: Wooler, Northumberland

Farm: Mixed Dairy & Arable

Size: 380 hectares

Background: North Doddington Farm is a mixed dairy and arable farm occupying 380 hectares near Wooler in Northumberland. The farm has an average annual rainfall of 625mm. The Maxwell family farm has 560 cattle (320 dairy cows, 220 heifers and 20 young bulls) and 600 sheep. The cattle are housed from November to May. Land use is split fairly evenly between grassland and arable. The grassland includes 12ha of lucerne and 26ha of permanent pasture. The arable crops include winter wheat, winter barley, triticale, maize and salad potatoes. Around 20ha of milling wheat and 20ha of rye (ahead of maize) are grown. Soils are mainly light (sandy loam and loamy sand Newport 1 and Alun series), though a few fields include heavier clay loam soils.

North Doddington Farm has previously been in a Countryside Stewardship Scheme with arable reversion, no input pasture management, lapwing cover and arable rotation (including conservation headlands and overwintered stubbles) and an Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Scheme agreement.

What does your nutrient management plan consist of?

The farms policy is to make use of the manure from its cattle. Slurry from the herd is spread using a tractor and bowser. Nutrient availabilities are 50 per cent N, 50 per cent P and 90 percent K. No manures are imported and records are kept of how much slurry is spread and its dry matter (DM) content is measured before application with a hydrometer so that the nitrogen content can be estimated. The farm can only store about six weeks' worth of slurry so this limits when and where slurry can be spread. At present slurry tends to be spread every six weeks on the fields nearest the farmstead.

What other factors affect your nutrient decisions?

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The Maxwells do not farm in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) but the farms' annual application limits, to ensure they comply with the Code of Good Agricultural Practice (CoGAP), are 166m3/hectares dairy slurry (2 per cent DM) and 42.5 tonnes/hectare cattle farmyard manure (FYM)

What are the benefits?

Nutrient Management Planning at North Donnington Farm means it achieves considerable cost savings by applying the organic manure produced by its stock, however it can significantly reduce its spending on artificial fertilisers by making use of the nitrogen available in its' organic manures. The PLANET nutrient plan also takes account of the need to build soil potassium reserves and to correct soil pH in some fields. To get the best value from the organic manures, the Maxwells should try to move the slurry around the farm to maintain P status in some fields and to allow it to run down in others. Increased storage would allow more slurry to be applied to crops when the nutrients are most needed (e.g. winter cereals in the spring)