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Improving nitrogen use efficiency on livestock farms

By: Philip Cosgrave

Improving nitrogen use efficiency on livestock farms is a key environmental challenge and has implications for water quality, greenhouse gas and ammonia gas emissions. However, the benefits are not restricted to the environment since more efficient use of nitrogen also has a significant effect on farm profitability


Improving nitrogen use efficiency on livestock farms
Improving nitrogen use efficiency on livestock farms
More efficient use of nitrogen, has a significant effect on a farmer’s bottom line

The benefits of improved nitrogen use efficiency are not restricted to the environment. More efficient use of nitrogen, has a significant effect on a farmer’s bottom line. Where nitrogen is not being recovered by the grass or by the cows and turned into saleable products (milk and meat) this is a financial loss to the farming system. Increasing nitrogen efficiency by improving utilisation of nitrogen by grass will result in lower losses of N to the air and water.

If a farmer can get more production (grass, milk or meat) for the same quantity of nitrogen input, or get similar production using less nitrogen input, it will lead to higher levels of nutrient efficiency. It could also potentially offset the need for expensive additional feeds or to help increase the total milk or liveweight gain from each hectare.

Nitrogen planning should consider the whole enterprise not just individual fields

Nitrogen fertiliser planning should not just consider the seasonal grass feed demands of the herd, but also the potential of the different soils/fields and swards to utilise applied nitrogen inputs over the season for grass production.

Improvements in nitrogen use efficiency and pasture productivity can be achieved by putting together a nutrient management plan for the year, utilising manure nitrogen sources efficiently, including low emission slurry spreading application methods, using the right nitrogen fertiliser type at the right-rate and the right time, improving grazing management, reseeding poorly preforming swards and optimising soil fertility, especially soil pH.

Nitrate-based fertilisers are more efficient

Nitrates are the preferred nitrogen form for most crops. Using nitrate fertiliser is more efficient for the plant, allowing maximum crop growth and a greater return on each kg of fertiliser you invest in.

Nitrate fertilisers are a better safeguard against the weather. Nitrates have efficient uptake even in conditions that are cool and wet or hot and dry, removing uncertainty and risk often associated with alternative fertiliser types.

Because nitrates are the prefered nitrogen source there is faster nutrient uptake. Early applied nitrates promote the growth of well-developed roots, which are important for capturing nutrients and are a precursor to higher nitrogen use efficiency.

Find more information on grassland nutrition

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