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Saturday 10 December 2016

Some crops may be salvageable despite horrendous conditions

Gerry Giggins

Published 28/09/2016 | 02:30

Tommy Reynolds from Leitrim competing in the Loy competition at the National Ploughing Championships. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Tommy Reynolds from Leitrim competing in the Loy competition at the National Ploughing Championships. Photo: Gerry Mooney

As I write I am reflecting and recovering from this year's Ploughing Championships. It again demonstrated itself as a uniquely Irish annual celebration of all things farming.

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Prior to attending the first day with some Chinese visitors, I tried to explain the scale and importance of the event. It was ironic that despite living and working in Beijing, they were both amazed by the size of the crowds, busy carparks and bustling walkways.

Once they found their bearings, they discovered the show on their own and that evening described it as a wondrous event commenting on the music, food and warm reception they received on all stands.

From speaking to many farmers over the three days the issue of the late and disastrous end to the harvest was a reoccurring topic.

Living in the north-east, the bulk of the cereal harvest finished three weeks ago and saving straw also followed suit. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case in many other regions. I saw many horrific phone pictures of lodged crops, sprouted spring wheat and rotting straw.

In some cases these crops were possibly unsalvageable but where either a combine or harvester can enter the field a number of options are still possible. With sprouted spring wheat, the best option is still to harvest the grain if conditions allow. This sprouted grain will have a reduced feed value but with the correct preservation it can be stored and fed safely to animals over the winter.

The most common preservation method for grains with a moisture of 24pc-35pc is crimping. However, this method requires grain to be harvested at an immature stage, with sugars still in the grain.

Sprouted grain is now fully mature, with sugars having already converted to starch. Acid treating or storing the grain using drying pedestals are the best options for grain in this condition.

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There is an option to wholecrop either sprouted or a lodged crop. Given the mature grain and straw stage, even in unfavourable harvest conditions this will be deemed as high dry matter wholecrop.

The biggest challenge with a high dry matter wholecrop is preservation and avoiding mould formation. The use of a high dry matter inoculant or the alkaline system are best in this case. In order for the grain to be digestible to livestock it must be cracked at the harvesting stage.

This has been a most peculiar year in the straw market. The normal early surge in demand from the livestock sector did not occur and many tillage farmers made the decision to chop the straw at harvest in order to incorporate it back into the soil. The trade on straw to Northern Ireland was also impaired by an unfavourable exchange rate.

Circumstances have obviously changed since early harvest and there is now a significant deficit of straw in the country.

The displays of maize plants on a number of stands were a reflection of the crops throughout the country. Despite a slightly later planting date most crops are now two weeks ahead of where they were this time last year.

Both yield and quality should be exceptional. As we are now in the run in to harvest, the temptation to get out and cut early should be avoided.

Speaking to John Foley of Maizetech he informed me that up to 0.5 tonnes of maize grain can be gained per acre per week in these final stages of maturity. There is still a lot of sugar in the maize plant that has to be converted to starch.

As part of a brief tutorial with John, I also learned that bending the stem on the maize and observing the amount of juice/ sugar is a good indicator of crop maturity and readiness for harvest.

When this juice is reduced to a few drops the grain in the cob is 50pc-55pc dry matter, this equates to overall forage dry matter of 32pc and is ready for harvesting.

This quality of maize silage has all the obvious attributes for beef finishing rations. In addition to these, maize can act as a high lignin feed and can go a long way to replacing or reducing straw.

Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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