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As I write this article pasture growth in many farming regions is restricted by a lack of moisture and a genuine spring flush has not arrived.

It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t worry about stuff we have no control over, however a lack of rain this early in the season is a concern.

Where it’s possible to rotationally graze animals, our experience over the last forty years, suggests that a genuine 30-day grazing interval is the best management option, along with reducing animal numbers to ensure animals are fully fed.

The counter to a 30-day round is that quality pasture not grazed for 30 days will deteriorate, by which time covers may have declined, and that is a fair argument.

However, going around quickly will result in a farm with very low covers well before the end of the year, with little ability to recover when rain arrives.

The topic of most concern to the farmers I’ve talked to of late, is not the weather but the recently arrived farming regulations.

The anxiety over new rules is that they may become overly prescriptive. That’s a real concern as regulation, no matter how well researched and written, cannot cover all farming situations and variables.

We live in a democracy and farmers have the right, and an obligation, to push back on directives that impinge on their ability to manage land in a way that has no negative influence on others. That right is enshrined in law and must be defended.

It’s a concern that groups representing the rights of farmers seem to have bought into the belief that pastoral farming is an environmentally negative activity, and that by planting woodlots and shelter belts farming might just manage to become carbon neutral.

That is a nonsense and does farming a real disservice.  The quickest way to sequester carbon is under permanent grazed pasture, and animals are a big part of the solution not the problem.

Most sheep and beef properties are continuously sequestering carbon, via the breakdown and incorporation of old root matter, dung, urine, and litter on the soil surface after grazing.

The issue around carbon and pastoral farming is the overuse of synthetic-N, primarily urea.  Nitrogen is an essential element and without a steady supply pasture growth diminishes to the point where low fertility species dominate and farming becomes financially non-viable.

It is the reliance on synthetic nitrogen that puts the industry at risk.  When storage, cartage, and spreading is included, a total of close to $500m each year is being spent.

There is an excellent podcast by Dr Richard Mulvaney from the University of Illinois, The Fallacy of Mainstream Potassium and Nitrogen Fertilizers, in which Mulvaney states that synthetic-N burns soil organic matter.

The importance of soil organic matter, in all its forms, cannot be over emphasised.  It’s estimated that with every 1% increase in soil carbon an extra 144,000 litres of water per hectare can be stored.

The amount of carbon in the soil also largely determines the amount of nutrient, including nitrogen, that can be held and released for plant uptake.

Rapidly decomposing organic matter, work undertaken primarily by earthworms, fungi, and bacteria, also reduces the amount of nitrogen, in the form of nitrate, lost to groundwater.  Carbon is the filter and any loss results in increased leaching of all nutrients.

Removing nitrogen from an existing programme will result in less growth unless it is replaced from another source.  Clover takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and makes it available for plant uptake.

There are decades of work showing that not only is clover capable of fixing all the nitrogen required to replace current synthetic N use, there are a number of other upsides, which will be the focus of the next article.

For more information call Peter on 0800 843 809.

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