Wet fields of stubble and ploughed furrows are still the predominant landscape feature of tillage areas this January and the current soil conditions show that this is unlikely to change much in the next few weeks.
The next decision to take is what to put into these fields when it does dry up. Spring wheat has not enjoyed much success in recent years. This has mainly been due to poor conditions during the grain fill period, which for spring wheat is mid/late July into August. Shorter days and lower temperatures have not allowed for yield potential to be realised and the crop has subsequently fallen out of favour.
Spring wheat can yield very well, and often has done in the past. The focus of the agronomy of the crop is not to enhance greenness of the crop or delay maturity, but to bring forward harvest as much as possible.
Late sown winter wheat can be very frustrating to grow in the spring as it is very slow to establish and get going compared to spring varieties.
However, assuming sufficient vernalisation is achieved, a crop of winter wheat and spring wheat sown at the same time will yield similar and be harvested at the same time.
Seed availability is the main concern with spring wheat so up until the latest safe sowing date of your particular variety, winter wheat would be okay to sow if spring wheat seed cannot be sourced.
Spring barley is the next option, but land suitable for winter wheat is often not suited for spring barley as the crop doesn't suffer poor seedbeds gladly.
The main issue is to watch costs very closely. A 100ha block moved from good winter wheat to mediocre spring barley will suffer a reduction in potential output of €50,000 so this reduction has to be planned from the start. Most of the big costs are already fixed at this point: machinery repayments, labour and land costs, so the opportunities to reduce costs are very limited.
One advantage to spring cropping is the opportunity to avail of organic manures coming from livestock farms. Many of these are bulging with manures after the wet weather so start making arrangements if possible. A good dressing of slurry or farmyard manure applied properly will meet all the P and K requirements and some of the nitrogen requirements of the crop. This can be a big help in reducing costs, and is to the benefit of both parties involved.
Land rent is another difficult issue. It's not easy to walk away from a parcel now as next autumn it probably won't be available. At the same time there is no point in going through the motion of growing a crop on expensive land if it's going to die in debt. This is where crop share arrangements come into their own, as the grower is not saddled with high rents in times of low outputs and the landowner has an interest in maintaining the land to maximise the output every year and is not left with worn out ground for the bad times.
Be careful about every input applied, ensure it is absolutely necessary and will give an economic return in the face of lower output potential. However, it's a false economy to eliminate inputs if they are necessary. For example wild oat control or an effective fungicide programme. This is a matter of trust between you and your advisor and it might be no harm meeting up at the beginning of the season to clarify a total spend on the crop.
When there are a few people hanging around the yard waiting for good weather or students home from college for a few weeks, they could be doing a lot worse than removing a bit of ivy from trees along the hedgerows of fields.
Ash trees are under threat from exotic diseases at present, but the proliferation of ivy smothering hedgerows is also having a bigger effect on this species.
Remove all the ivy from around the circumference of the trunk about 12-18 inches (30-40cm) high and paint on a solution of glyphosate onto the ivy cuts to prevent regrowth.
Use a slash hook, pruning saw or secateurs. Do not use a chainsaw. Cutting around a tree without damaging it requires careful footwork on unstable ground, so it is not the best place for chainsaw operation. Also, any damage to the bark can destroy the tree as the live part of the tree is immediately behind the bark and it's very easy to cut too deep with the chainsaw and do more harm than good to the tree population of your farm.
Dr Richard Hackett is a crop consultant and member of the ACA and ITCA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org