Andrew relies on PAM and gut instinct

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Minimising risk is important but for Andrew Boultbee, fertiliser strategies remain much the same year in, year out.

The York farmer said he was budgeting for his long-term average yield and would be fertilising according to that. However, rates will be knocked back slightly.

“There is a little less going on but there’s been very little leaching since last year, so we’re assuming that there is some left,” he said.

“The compounds we’re not dropping back too much because we’re matching replacement with extraction.”

Using the Paddock Action Management (PAM) program, the Boultbees map soil nutrient trends primarily looking at phosphates, potassium and soil pH.

“We do lots of soil testing and we record it all on PAM so we can go back and line all the years up and look at trends,” Andrew said.

“But we didn’t do soil testing this year, that’s purely a cost saving — we’ve got enough track record to fly by the seat of our pants.”

Andrew, who farms with his wife Marjorie, said they worked out how many kilograms of grain were produced per millimetre of rain and then fertilised accordingly for their farmland at York, Meckering and Quairading.

“If we assume we’re going to grow two tonnes at Quairading, our historical soil testing shows we need to apply about 20kg of nitrogen/tonne produced in a cereal,” he said.

“So we fertilise for about 70 or 80 per cent of that yield, but if it was a very early season we may go to budgeted yield.

“Then if we get to mid-July and we find that we’ve had, say, 20 per cent higher rainfall than what we normally get, then we assume the rest of the average rainfall from there on historical data to the end of the year.

“And then we just do the numbers — how much nitrogen do we have in and with this extra rainfall what should we produce?”

Splitting applications allows Andrew to reduce his risk in a bad season, but only to a certain degree.

“Last year all the Flexi-N stayed in the tanks and we spread less urea but we did have 70 per cent of our expected amount on,” he said.

“It would have been better if we had none of that but it was a year out of the blue and you can’t farm for those.

“If we could have $80–$100,000 worth of nitrate not on the paddock if the year was looking a bit risky, then we would certainly do that.”

Andrew locked in his fertiliser price last year, but said buying early was the only concession to price shifts.

“I assumed this year because grain prices were high a bit before harvest and so was our dollar… I thought this could be another 2009 where we had the massive price hike in fertiliser so we locked our fertiliser in then,” he said.

“It hasn’t really gone through the roof because the dollar has continued to rise, but we bought at better prices than you could get in the last two months.

“It’s nice to say that you react to everything, but when you look back at how many times we have either backed right off on our fertiliser because of high fertiliser prices or low grain prices, we might have changed small percentages, but really very little.”

This season Andrew has backed off on his canola program, reducing it from 38 per cent to 30 per cent to manage risk.

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