Over 70 percent of the nitrogen applied in early Spring can be lost to the air or water, says Samuel Leadbeater of Timac Agro UK, which is based at Rothamsted Research. He is urging farmers to consider phased release nitrogen that will remain in the soil until released by microbial action as the soils warm and plants begin to grow.
Timac Agro’s soil health first approach can reduce the loss of expensive inputs and provide lasting benefits to soil structure and resilience. The impact of increasing bioavailability of nitrogen can be seen in the protein content of the harvested crop, and the company offers an analysis service to enable farmers to quantify the benefits of its soil conditioners on the crop – including improvements in forage protein and nutrient content.
The company will be one of a number of technologists presenting in a session at “Agri-Tech and ELMS – the Innovation Enablers“, an in-person event on 22nd March at Rothamsted Research.
Role of microbes in soil is key
Samuel explains: “Our soils are immense reserves of nutrients, but these can be unavailable to plants when soil conditions are adverse, or without microbial action. Our approach is to improve the environment for the microbes so they can work better.”
Inorganic nitrogen applied to the soil in the spring releases large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, but cold conditions make plants slow to uptake. Under these conditions there is a high risk that expensive fertiliser will leach into waterways or be lost to the atmosphere or be stolen by other organisms.
It is estimated that across the year a commodity nitrogen, such as ammonium nitrate will be around 60% efficient, with early spring applications showing even greater losses.
Timac Agro has developed a phased release nitrogen, that uses a Humic complex to create a protective lattice around the nitrogen, binding it into the soil. Under the influence of temperature and moisture, this complex releases Nitrogen at a plant-friendly rate.
The N-Process molecule also releases a suite of trace elements and micronutrients which become available to the plant to increase the nutritional quality of the crop, including sulphur, magnesium, boron, zinc and manganese, all of which help the crop grow, but also including iodine, cobalt and selenium, which are trace elements crucial to the health of livestock that feed on the crop.
“Using our product, you can apply a lower rate of nitrogen and have more of it available to the plant,” explains Samuel. “This is particularly important for the first application of the season. In the south-west UK, with low temperature and high rainfall in the early spring, growers can see as low as 20% efficiency on their commodity nitrogen. Compare that to the Timac product, which can have 70% efficiency at this time. So, the increase in available nitrogen is stark.”
All Timac’s products act as soil conditioners, improving the chemical, biological and physical properties of the soil as well as fertiliser, releasing nutrients to the plants.
Soil acidity controls availability of nutrients
Soil pH is key to the availability of nutrients, especially phosphorus which is locked up when at both high (alkaline) and low (acidic) pH. Timac’s products contain CalcimerTM, a source of calcium from the sea, which acts as a pH buffer, regulating the acidity of the soil. Unlike liming the soil which can take months to show an effect, the highly porous nature and solubility of Calcimer allow it to take effect immediately.
“All our products enhance the bacterial and fungal community in the soil,” explains Samuel.
“Bacteria are essential to make better use of nutrients. This applies to organic sources of applied nitrogen, but it also applies to any existing organic matter in your soil, such as leftover roots and stubble, which contains nutrients that plants could potentially use.”
“Residues from the previous crop can break down in soil during the winter and then provide nutrients gradually over the growing season – but those nutrients will struggle to become available unless bacteria and fungi are present to break it down.”
Trials to show nutritional value of forage
Improved nutrient availability gives forage crops a higher protein and nutrient content, which is why Samuel says that a detailed forage analysis is the best way to demonstrate the benefits of a soil first approach to farmers as the results are not always visually apparent.
He says: “We want farmers to be confident in what they’re doing, so we offer to analyse their crop at harvest to help them evaluate the difference between our product and the commodity alternative.”
“Crop yield and quality improvements can add huge value, but this is only noticeable when you measure it, which is why we help the farmer do that.”
“It’s a matter of helping the grower set up trials on two separate fields, one using ours and one using the commodity. And then it’s a matter of sending one of our technicians at harvest time to take samples of both fields.”
“Our business model is based around a lasting relationship with the farmer, which is why in certain cases where trials are carried out by customers, we will bear the cost of analysis demonstrating the efficacy of our technologies, building trust and demonstrating value and return on investment.”
Samuel is one of the innovators presenting potential technologies relevant to ELMS, alongside thematic experts and Defra representatives who will be speaking at the Agri-TechE event “Agri-Tech and ELMS – the Innovation Enablers. Leading farmer Jake Freestone of Overbury Enterprises will give a scene setting talk, and the event will be chaired by Andrew Blenkiron of Euston Estates. Join us onTuesday 22nd March @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.