Ulster Farmers’ Union

The Challenge

Fertilizer Decision Support Tool (FDS). The end goal for the Fertilizer Decision Support (FDS) tool is achieved when farmers are using the technology to decide on when, where and how much fertilizer to apply.

Protype ready for demonstration in an appropiate operational environment, aligning with existing tools like CAFRE Crop Nutrient Calculator.

In detail

Farmers face significant challenges in reducing fertilizer usage due to the need to balance crop yield with environmental sustainability. Fertilizers are essential for providing nutrients to crops, ensuring high yields and food security. However, excessive use leads to environmental issues such as soil degradation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

One major challenge is the variability in soil types and crop requirements, making it difficult to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to fertilizer reduction. Today, most farmers apply fertilizers using a one-size-fits-all / blanket application approach. Farmers need precise knowledge and technology to assess soil health and nutrient needs accurately, and then apply fertilizers using an as-required / conditional approach.

Another challenge is economic. Fertilizers are a substantial cost, and reducing their use without compromising yield can risk farmers’ incomes, especially in the absence of reliable alternatives. Integrated soil fertility management practices, such as crop rotation, require time and investment, which may not be feasible for all farmers.

Additionally, there is a knowledge gap. Many farmers lack access to training and resources to implement advanced techniques like precision agriculture, which optimizes fertilizer use. Thus, balancing productivity, economic viability, and environmental stewardship makes reducing fertilizer usage a complex challenge for farmers. We like to reduce our fertilizer use through conditional fertiliser application and compliment with tools such as the CAFRE Crop Nutrient Calculator. 

What does implementation look like?

The end goal for the Fertilizer Decision Support (FDS) tool is achieved when farmers are using the technology to decide on when, where and how much fertilizer to apply.

For this challenge a successful outcome is achieved when farmers have had input to the technology development and some real-field testing of a prototype solution has taken place. To be successful the solution needs to demonstrate its capability to reduce fertilizer application through a realistic as-required / conditional application approach.

Company background

Founded in 1918, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is the largest democratic voluntary organisation representing farmers and growers in Northern Ireland. Its central objective is to promote their interests both at home and abroad through professional lobbying.

The UFU takes a close interest in rural affairs and services, works with politicians both in the U.K. and Internationally, and with other groups and organisations to advance rural interests. It has particularly close links with consumer groups, countryside and wildlife bodies, animals welfare organisations and academics. The UFU works closely with National Farmers’ Unions in England, Scotland and Wales, and the Irish Farmers’ Association in Dublin. Collectively the UK Unions support the Bureau de l’Agriculture Brittanique, giving local farmers a permanent staff presence in Brussels.The strength of the UFU is clearly demonstrated by its ability to successfully represent the wide range of interests of farmers.

Explain your approach to sustainability

Two of our organisations 4 organisations objectives outline our sustainability focus.

  1. To seek to secure the economic sustainability and quality of life for farm families.
  2. To encourage environmentally sustainable, welfare friendly, market orientated farming practices.

UFU pursue our sustainability objectives though our operational activities, grass roots members discuss policy issues at their local group and county meetings. These are then examined in detail at the UFU’s central committees, before policies are ratified at the UFU’s monthly executive committee meeting.