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Phosphorus balance and use efficiency on 21 intensive grass-based dairy farms in the South of Ireland

  • E. MIHAILESCU (a1) (a2), P. N. C. MURPHY (a3), W. RYAN (a1), I. A. CASEY (a2) and J. HUMPHREYS (a1)...


Given the finite nature of global phosphorus (P) resources, there is an increasing concern about balancing agronomic and environmental impacts from P usage on dairy farms. Data from a 3-year (2009–2011) survey were used to assess farm-gate P balances and P use efficiency (PUE) on 21 intensive grass-based dairy farms operating under the good agricultural practice (GAP) regulations in Ireland. Mean stocking rate (SR) was 2·06 livestock units (LU)/ha, mean P surplus was 5·09 kg/ha, or 0·004 kg P/kg milk solids (MS), and mean PUE was 0·70. Phosphorus imports were dominated by inorganic fertilizer (7·61 kg P/ha) and feeds (7·62 kg P/ha), while exports were dominated by milk (6·66 kg P/ha) and livestock (5·10 kg P/ha). Comparison to similar studies carried out before the introduction of the GAP regulations in 2006 indicated that P surplus, both per ha and per kg MS, has significantly decreased (by 74 and 81%, respectively) and PUE increased (by 48%), mostly due to decreased inorganic fertilizer P import and improvements in P management. There has been a notable shift towards spring application of organic manures, indicating improved awareness of the fertilizer value of organic manures and good compliance with the GAP regulations regarding fertilizer application timing. These results suggested a positive impact of the GAP regulations on dairy farm P surplus and PUE, indicating an improvement in both environmental and economic sustainability of dairy production through improved resource use efficiencies. Such improvements will be necessary to achieve national targets of improved water quality and increased dairy production. Results suggest that optimizing fertilizer and feed P imports combined with improved on-farm P recycling are the most effective way to increase PUE. Equally, continued monitoring of soil test P (STP) and P management will be necessary to ensure that adequate soil P fertility is maintained. Mean P surplus was lower and PUE was much higher than the overall mean surplus (15·92 kg P/ha) and PUE (0·47) from three studies of continental and English dairy farms, largely due to the low import system that is more typical in Ireland, with seasonal milk production (compact spring calving), low use of imported feeds and high use of grazed grass.

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