The Sundorne Estate in Shropshire increased its nett margin from oilseed rape by £130/ha last year after introducing CF Fertilisers' N-Min® test and following the advice generated by this unique, patented soil Nitrogen analysis service.
Briefed with farming sympathetically and sustainably, yet delivering the best financial performance, farm consultant Jon Birchall of Balfours LLP, has focused on improving attention to detail since taking on the management of the 1500-acre Sundorne Estate at Uffington near Shrewsbury two years ago. He states:
"With agricultural commodity prices at current levels, profit margins can be relatively small, so we take a flexible, forward-thinking approach and control production costs very carefully. As an agronomist I focus on matching crop inputs to agronomic requirements very precisely so as to maximise profitability. Fertiliser is a major cost, so we have to make best use of it.
" I first used N-Min fifteen years ago and quickly realised the need for it here at the Sundorne Estate, for a number of reasons. We take significant tonnages of sewage sludge and digestate from AD plants and these are very variable in terms of nutrient content. Soil potash levels are also very low because the estate is close to the Welsh borders and has traditionally sold much of the straw it produced. Because of those factors the soil nutrient status has been very variable, which is why N-Min play a key part of what we do.
"At the beginning of 2015 CF Fertilisers' agronomist Allison Grundy took four N-Min samples from four fields, one where oilseed rape followed barley, wheat after potatoes, rye following wheat and maize after maize. Hill Court Farm Research then analysed the N-Min results which highlighted a Soil N level of 43kg/ha and Crop N of 100kg/ha, giving a total Soil Nitrogen Supply of 143kg/ha.
We used CF Fertilisers' N-Calc system to produced specifically tailored recommendations for every crop on the Estate, including 167kg N/ha for oilseed rape, and then compared the results from the CF Blueprint with what we would normally have used to produce a 4.5t/ha crop."
Oilseed rape was drilled at the end of August following barley, established well and the 'estate rate' area received 30 kg/ha of Nitrogen in the autumn. From there on the total amount of Nitrogen applied differed, with Jon applying the balance of the estate's usual - and by no means excessive - 190kg/ha to half on land that was deemed to have a 'good' level of Crop N. The remainder received the blueprint recommendation of 167kg/ha in two applications, the first at stem extension, the second for yield at the yellow bud stage.
"Despite applying 23 kg/ha less Nitrogen the blueprinted area yielded an extra 0.5t/ha," Jon explains. "The combination of input cost saving and additional production increased our nett margin from the 70ha of oilseed rape by £130/ha, a total of £9100."
Allison Grundy adds: "Farming profitably is no longer about 'big ideas' that revolutionise the way we do things but instead implementing a number of improvements that on their own may lead to marginal gains but compound to produce a far greater overall result. Optimising fertiliser application is a key part of that process."