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Spreading poultry manure – everything you need to know

An improvement in the weather this past few weeks and drier ground conditions have encouraged poultry producers to spread manure in an effort to provide nutrients for grass and crop growth.  

Changes to the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP-2019/2022) regulations also mean changes in management and record-keeping for producers who use high phosphorus (high P) manures such as commercial egg producers, broiler breeders, pullet rearers, duck farmers, pig producers with farmyard manure and users of anaerobic digestate.

This also applies to farmers using chemical phosphorus fertiliser. If farmers intend using any of these high P manures or chemical P fertiliser, a soil analysis is now required to show that there is a crop requirement for phosphorus and a fertilisation plan must also be prepared and kept up to date. 

These changes came into effect on January 1, 2020. Farmers who are importing manure from these types of enterprises and using it on their land must also have a soil analysis and fertilisation plan completed.

In this question and answer article, officials from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise explain best practice for poultry producers’ use of manure.

Q: ‘I use chemical phosphorus and high P manure.  Why do I have to do a soil analysis and Fertilisation Plan for my farm?’

Phosphorus is a valuable nutrient but if it is over-applied to land it can end up leaching into watercourses, leading to enrichment, loss of biodiversity and water quality issues.  It makes sense to only apply the amount of fertiliser that your crop actually requires. 

It saves you money, is better for the environment and shows you are managing your manure and fertiliser sustainably.

A: Soil Sampling and Analysis is the place to start when managing nutrients and soil fertility.  There is no point applying nutrients to crops if they are already supplied by the soil.

A soil analysis is very inexpensive when compared to the cost of fertiliser and should be carried out routinely every four years. 

Regular soil analysis is the key to nutrient management as results are a reliable guide to assessing and monitoring levels and provide a sound basis for lime, slurry/manure and chemical fertiliser applications. 

What does the P index mean on my Soil Analysis Results?

The quantities of “plant-available” nutrients (mg/l) listed in the results column of your soil analysis are expressed as an Index, which can range from 0 to 9.

As each soil Index relates to the available nutrients in a sample it can be used to determine the need for any additional nutrients required for crop growth. 

The higher the Soil Index the lower the need for additional nutrients from slurry/manure and fertilisers. Table 1 below gives examples of what various Phosphorus Indexes might mean for management of your field.

Q: ‘What should I do if my Phosphorus Index levels for each sample is above P Index 3?’

If you are grazing your ground only and it is a P Index of 3 you should not apply any manure to this ground.  For first cut silage and other crops, there is some need for phosphorus.

DAERA’s Crop Nutrient Calculator at www.daera-ni.gov.uk/onlineservices will help you determine nutrient limit requirements and draw up a nutrient management plan for your farm. 

Based on your soil analysis it will help you:

  • Determine the N, P and K required by the crop;
  • Calculate the amount of nutrients supplied by organic manures;
  • Select the correct chemical fertiliser and application rate;
  • Retain information required for record-keeping for NAP and Phosphorus Regulations 2019-2022.

A print-out of this Crop Nutrient Report for each of your fields, where high P manure or chemical P is used, will suffice as a Fertiliser Plan for your business.

Q: ‘What are my options if I cannot apply hen manure to my land with P Indexes of 3, 4 or 5+?’

A: You can export your hen manure if there is another farmer who has a crop need for it.  However, you should make the farmer aware that he also needs a soil analysis to prove that his land has a crop need.

They should also retain a fertiliser plan to prove this as part of the NAP Regulations 2019-2022.

You need to keep a record of the quantity of manure exported, the date of export and the name, address and farm business number of the farmer who has imported your hen manure, so that you can notify NIEA before January 31, 2021 of any of your exports.

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