The application of slurry nutrients to land can be associated with unintended losses to the environment depending on soil and weather conditions. Correct timing of slurry application, however, can increase plant nutrient uptake and reduce losses. A decision support system (DSS), which predicts optimum conditions for slurry spreading based on the Hybrid Soil Moisture Deficit (HSMD) model, was investigated for use as a policy tool. The DSS recommendations were compared to farmer perception of suitable conditions for slurry spreading for three soil drainage classes (well, moderate and poorly drained) to better understand on farm slurry management practices and to identify potential conflict with farmer opinion. Six farmers participated in a survey over two and a half years, during which they completed a daily diary, and their responses were compared to Soil Moisture Deficit (SMD) calculations and weather data recorded by on farm meteorological stations. The perception of land drainage quality differed between farmers and was related to their local knowledge and experience. It was found that the allocation of grass fields to HSMD drainage classes using a visual assessment method aligned farmer perception of drainage at the national scale. Farmer opinion corresponded to the theoretical understanding that slurry should not be applied when the soil is wetter than field capacity, i.e. when drainage can occur. While weather and soil conditions (especially trafficability) were the principal reasons given by farmers not to spread slurry, farm management practices (grazing and silage) and current Nitrates Directive policies (closed winter period for spreading) combined with limited storage capacities were obstacles to utilisation of slurry nutrients. Despite the slightly more restrictive advice of the DSS regarding the number of suitable spreading opportunities, the system has potential to address an information deficit that would help farmers to reduce nutrient losses and optimise plant nutrient uptake by improved slurry management. The DSS advice was in general agreement with the farmers and, therefore, they should not be resistant to adopting the tool for day to day management.
Kerebel, A., Cassidy, R., Jordan, P., & Holden, N. M. (2013). Farmer perception of suitable conditions for slurry application compared with decision support system recommendations. Agricultural Systems, 120, 49-60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2013.05.007