Introducing a nitrogen stabiliser to the liquid fertiliser regime on a 4500-acre arable enterprise in Aberdeenshire has taken some getting used to, according to its manager, Marc Skivington.

Having trust in the approach has definitely paid dividends for him after including Didin in the mix. Apart from freeing up significant amounts of time across the business, especially at busy periods, Didin and liquid fertiliser had helped produce more even crops and improve the environmental profile at Slains Park Farm, near Montrose, plus saved more than £33,000/annum in contracting fees.

The farm supports 1000 acres of spring barley, 900 acres of winter wheat, 360 acres of oilseed rape, 300 acres of winter barley, 400 acres of potatoes, 100 acres of rye and 172 acres of daffodils, all within a 20 mile radius of the main farm.

This is the sixth year of using Omex liquid fertiliser on the farm and Didin was introduced to the business last year following on-farm trials. It contains urease and nitrification inhibitors and tank-mixing it with liquid N+S converts it to a slow release fertiliser.

As a result, there’s no need to split top-dressing applications and all the nitrogen is applied at the time of the first dressing and spraying liquids with it earlier in the season when conditions were more suitable to minimising scorch risk in cereals.

The farm uses a Bargam Grimac 28m self-propelled sprayer with 4000-litre capacity to apply Nitroflo 24+S plus Didin at 6l/ha, delivering 160kgN/ha plus 50kgS03. Only 1000 acres of his land still received bagged P:K.

Other land on the farm is already high in P and K due to pig and dairy manure and digestate from an AD plant. Essential for potatoes, the addition of sulphur drops the soil pH and frees up essential locked up elements and including zinc oxide and zinc sulphate also helps manage powdery scab.

When Didin is included in the tank, the sprayer forward speed is reduced to about 8kph. But if the delivery tanker can get to the field, rather than the sprayer having to drive back to the farm to fill up, the output remains constant and there is no need to revisit the field for top-dressing for the rest of the season.

“We find that liquid fertiliser is so much more accurate than a solid system and the environmental benefits are obvious, especially on our grass margins,” said Mr Skivington. “There is no waste or over supply of product and there are no bags to get rid of.

“Our stores, which used to house solid fertiliser in bags, are now filled with machines. Also, granular fertiliser that is left in the hopper needs to be spread to get it out of the spreader, whereas with liquids it just needs pumping back into the tank.”

He believes some growers are reluctant to try Didin because they thought it restricted yield. From his experience, that is definitely not the case.

The fear of applying a crop’s entire nitrogen requirement in one application is not an issue for him as he has had no detrimental impact on crop performance. In fact, Didin appeared to make the crop healthier and better able to fight against disease, he argued.

Using the additive had also been felt in the farm’s oilseed rape crop, a key benefit being that there is no need to go into the crop to spray during the growing season when it is more vulnerable to mechanical damage.

The farming operation employs eight men but, in March, two are sub contracted to the East Coast Viners pea group. This seriously depleted the work force at a really busy time and used to mean that contractors were brought in temporarily to replace them.

The new fertiliser regime changed all that and the existing workforce can manage without the need for extra help. At peak workload periods, the farm could easily have five contractors employed on the potatoes and silaging alone.

“Switching to liquid fertiliser and Didin has been a game changer for us,” said Mr Skivington. “You need a certain mindset though to adopt it as part of the management programme. Including slow release nitrogen removed the time and workload pressure.”

Liquid and solid fertiliser systems cost about the same, although it is possible to buy the liquid when prices are low and store on site. And the problem of storing bagged fertiliser in sheds that might already be full of potatoes from harvest and the disposal of empty bags is no longer an issue.

“Some farmer’s might be nervous about not being able to apply their nitrogen when the crop looks like it wants a boost,” added Mr Skivington. “But, be rest assured that the slow release system works really well and it has had a huge impact on the management of our business.”