Slurry and manure can be such a valuable resource

Stephen, Rhona and John Mitchell of (Rumbletonrig, one of the Scottish Government's new Climate Change Focus Farms.

Stephen, Rhona and John Mitchell of (Rumbletonrig, one of the Scottish Government's new Climate Change Focus Farms.

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SRUC experts are advising farmers to make better use of their slurry and manure to increase profitability and reduce their environmental impact.

While livestock farms create large volumes of their own organic manures which can add much needed nutrients back into the soil, many farmers are still not getting the best out of this resource.

The message was given at a recent ‘Farming for a Better Climate’ event held at Rumbletonrig, a 341 hectare farm near Greenlaw, run by John Mitchell and his family, one of the Scottish Government’s new Climate Change Focus Farms.

SAC consultant Donald Dunbar said: “Too often farmers see slurry and manure as a waste product they need to get rid off. We know that used correctly it can reduce the need for fertiliser which will save money, and of course reduce the pollution risk. However, while many farmers will spread their manure on their fields they still add a normal application of bag fertiliser as well, seeing the manure as little more than a bonus treatment.”

Rumbletonrig is a mixed enterprise and as well as growing barley, wheat and oats, the Mitchells have 250 sheep and 300 beef cows. While they create and use a significant volume of manure Chris McDonald, a senior agricultural consultant with SAC Consulting, believes they can make far more of it through using it in the right way at the right time.

He says: “The slurry and manures at Rumbletonrig have an equivalent nutrient value worth around £14,000. We will be working with John and son Stephen to work out where best to apply the manure, when to apply the manure and how much to apply to get the valuable phosphate and potash nutrients back where they’re needed most. That way he can save on his purchased fertiliser which will help both his bottom line and the natural environment.”

Farmers throughout the Borders could benefit similarly if they begin to think about their slurry and manure as a valuable resource and carefully plan how to use it.

Donald added: “In some fields the nutrient status may already be quite high which means rates of slurry or fertiliser can be reduced, so it’s important that farmers take a more targeted approach. The nutrient level depends on the crop which has just been in the ground, if you have just cut grass for silage for example you’ll have removed a high amount of potash from your soil which manure can help replace.”

For the Farming for a Better Climate team the key to helping farmers adopt greener practices is to highlight just how positive making these changes can be for the farm.

Donald says: “What we need to do is speak to farmers as much as we can and explain how beneficial this can be if they do it the right way. We need to get them to break old habits, it is worth it.”