Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Nuffield Conference 'Fertiliser For The Future'
On Thursday 19th April I had a really interesting trip up to Harper Adams University College to listen to the Nuffield 'Fertilisers for the Future' Conference. Its a subject that I feel, we as an industry, have to get to grips with and try and use our existing energy hungry sources of fertiliser more efficiently. There were four great speakers with a very varied choice of subjects all of which I found very interesting.
First up was Nik Johnson (JSE-Systems Ltd) who gave us a brief overview of the Phosphorus perspective. I didn't realise that Morocco, China and Iraq have 75% of the worlds phosphate supply and with current political unrest around the world, could conceivably make this a very scare nutrient to western arable farmers. Most of the phosphate is also shifting East to West in the form of grain and straw to livestock enterprises, not just in the UK but around the world. Basically Nik was saying that we need to get the phosphate reclaimed form other sources and stop wasting what we have in our soils, through soil run-off, taking the nutrient away locked onto soil particles. In the future we have to understand how P works in different soils, the interaction of cultivation, organic matter and rotations all have a part to play. Fascinating stuff and good to know that at Overbury we're heading in the right direction with our increased use of organic matter in the arable rotation.
Mark Tucker (Yara - the largest N fertiliser manufacturer in the world) followed with the Nitrogen story. Nitrogen has such an important role to play in our crops and our environment as 50% of applied nitrogen ends up in the environment (leaching and volatilisation), which is expensive and damaging. Mark talked about how we can reduce our reliance on manufactured nitrogen through rotations, cover cropping, green manures and livestock, a tall order to supply our needs but we need to do what we can. These tactics can help build the soils natural fertility and help retain more of the nutrients we apply. Should we be looking at genetically modified crops that are more efficient at harvesting nitrogen fertilisers therefore reducing the levels lost to the environment? We need to look at the science for the answers.
The theme of soil fertility continued after lunch with Jo Franklin talking about nutrients, organic matter and bugs (NOB's) which linked is so well to the earlier presentations. The soil is such a complex living thing that is delicate and needs to be looked after to have any chance of sustainable agriculture in the future. Clive Blacker finished the presentations with an overview of precision farming, which those of you who follow my blog will know that's right up my street.
In summary the event has raised more questions than answers and given me some things to think about here on the farm. I'm sure some of those thoughts and trials will come forward in future blogs.