Jono Schwass

Fertiliser vs Fertiliser


When choosing a fertiliser, we are faced with many options: conventional fertiliser, organic fertiliser, salt-based fertilisers… but what is best? What will suit your farm? The lines between these fertilisers can get blurred and the actual meaning can be debated - but let’s stick to what we know….

Choosing What’s Right for Your Farming System

When choosing a fertiliser, we are faced with many options: conventional fertiliser, organic fertiliser, salt-based fertilisers… but what is best? What will suit your farm? The lines between these fertilisers can get blurred and the actual meaning can be debated - but let’s stick to what we know….

Organic Fertiliser

In science, an organic compound is a compound that contains carbon and commonly originates from living things. Organic fertilisers are derived from natural materials such as mined rock minerals, and natural plant and animal materials e.g. compost, guano, seaweed. In certified organics, organic fertilisers are required to meet certain criteria when it comes to the sourcing, ethicality and contamination of heavy metals and inorganic compounds. Organic fertilisers generally release slower, as they rely on living organisms to break down the organic compounds and utilize the minerals when required. It can be deduced that this results in a higher nutrient utilisation, as it mitigates leaching. But on the other hand, organic compounds may require a more biologically active environment to enhance availability.

Conventional or Synthetic Fertiliser

Synthetic fertilisers, or conventional fertilisers, are manufactured and purified compounds with high percentages of specific elements. This results in products that are often stable in their nutrient composition and contain a few specific nutrients, versus organic compounds that may contain many different nutrients. Synthetic fertilisers are often more water soluble, so tend to release quicker. This has a great effect for short term results but may be less favorable for long term nutrient supply. Due to their water-soluble traits, these nutrients can be more prone to leaching when over applied.Due to the water solubility, synthetic fertiliser is usually more effective as a plant feeder compared to correcting nutrient levels in the soil.When soil life and mineral balance is neglected, this can enhance dependance on regular nutrient applications to sustain plant growth.

Salt-Based Fertiliser

Due to the corrosive characteristics of table salt or sodium chloride, there are many negative connotations with salt-based fertilisers. While table salt is the most thought of substance when we talk about salt, there are many other substances that are also officially salts. What defines a salt according to scientific explanations? “A salt consists of the positive ion (cation) of a base and the negative ion (anion) of an acid.” A good example that many people wouldn’t think of as a salt is lime. Ag lime, also known as calcium carbonate, is a salt where calcium is the cation and the carbonate the anion. But also, copper sulphate or plaster, which is a form of calcium sulphate.However, when people refer to salt-based fertilisers, they are often referring to the synthetic, water-soluble type which, as mentioned above, can result in rapid growth and immediate response.

So, what best suits my farming operation?

There are ‘horses for courses’ as they say, but when looking for solutions it is important to first outline short-term and long-term goals of the farming outcome. When it comes to fertilising there are a few key things to be considered, such as what is best from an economical and environmental point of view. Good questions to ask include…

  1. What is the current fertility of the soil?
  2. How biologically active is the soil?
  3. What are you trying to grow and in what timeframe?
  4. Is the application to grow an annual crop or to correct mineral balance in the soil?
  5. If it is to correct soil mineral balance, does the situation allow staged building of nutrient levels or is it more appropriate to address the deficiency at once?
  6. What are the restraints of application and transportation?

Of the 17 nutrients that are required to grow a plant, there are a few key ones, such as phosphate. We often see the likes of phosphate fertilisers applied at high rates; then, because we have seen a good response after applying a specific mineral in the past, we continue to apply these fertilisers at higher rates -year on year. This can result in overloading the soil with single nutrients and undetected deficiencies in our soil, which then come through in our plant and stock health. Whilst conventional fertilisers can be a quick solution and organic compounds are often slower acting, it is important to understand the goals and what time frame you are working within. Creating a balanced, healthy soil isn’t something that happens overnight, and profitability is something that needs to be respected for sustainable business practice.

SoilMatters take all options into account when choosing the right fertiliser for a farming system. It may seem difficult to change from a trusted way of doing things, but with the help and guidance of our experienced team it is possible to do it right and do it well.When it comes to soil, we can help you identify the lowest hanging fruit to make gains in your farming goals.

Jono Schwass

Fun fact:

Justus von Liebig is the discoverer of the effects of nitrogen on plant growth. In his early days he was a profound promoter of the use of nitrogen to enhance plant growth. However, what is often forgotten about is that at an older age he discovered new insights and learnt that the unlimited use of nitrogenous fertiliser does not come without consequences. We have an English translation of his diary available in which he describes the journey of his learnings. Feel free to get in touch and we will get you a copy!

Contact us for a quick yarn about how we can help your farm

Phone 0800 764 5628
Call us!

When you work alongside a Soil Matters specialist, first we’ll tee up a farm visit so we can get to know each other, and to learn what your goals are for your farm. Next we’ll gather the relevant information to assess the health of your soil (you can start with a specific area or we can do a whole farm assessment). Then we’ll take this information, and together with the other experts in our team as required, we will look to identify any factors which could be limiting your plant growth and put a plan in place!

One of our team will be in touch!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.