Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 February 2017

Drought-like conditions are leaving us concerned about the quality of our crops

Helen Harris

Helen Harris

We were lucky enough to get away for a few days last week between the spraying and fertiliser. So we headed off on the ferry to Scotland, travelling up the coast road from Troon looking at all their crops along the way.

They had the same dry spell that we got and it shows in the crops. Bald patches and thin crops. Everything is way behind where it should be and crops are very stunted, especially in the spring varieties.

Chatting to a friend living in the middle of England, he said that their situation was even more serious. He had never seen such short oilseed rape in bloom. On the journey back from Larne, we nearly sprained our necks looking over the hedges and comparing the different fields along the way. The winter crops generally look brilliant because they had a chance to get their roots good and deep before the dry spell. In contrast, the spring crop hadn't that chance and got dried out.

Who would have thought that Irish and Scottish farmers would be complaining about drought? Normally we are the ones getting washed out. What do you do? Irrigation in Ireland is uneconomical on wheat, barley or oats and yet you don't want to lose your crop. Even when the rain arrived you wondered, was it too little, too late?

We were delighted when we got a dry autumn and worked long hours to try and get as much wheat and barley in as we could before the weather broke. The down side of planting wheat in September is we had to go out with a T0 this year because of the septoria pressure. We planted Einstein, JB Diego, Kingdom and Grafton varieties of winter wheat. Normally we could push our first spray into T1 and save ourselves this expense. For our T0, we went with Cherokee at 1l/ha and CeCeCe at 1.75l/ha. For our T1 a couple of weeks later, we went with Opus at 1l/ha, Eyetak at 0.8l/ha, Bravo at 1l/ha, Cheetah at 0.8l/ha and CeCeCe at 0.5l/ha.

We looked at a few different combinations of chemicals but this was the most economical for us. It will hopefully keep the crop disease-free until the T2 when we plan to go out with Cauldron at 2l/ha and Bravo at 1l/ha. The winter wheat has already got 141 units of nitrogen, in the form of 1.5 bags/ac of 26pc nitrogen + 14pc sulphur, four bags/ac of CAN and four bags/ac of 0.7.30.

The winter barley varieties we have this year are Anisette and Leibniz. We got to sow a lot of this in September too, but again this does mean that the disease pressure on the crops comes early.

Before sowing, we went out with two bags/ac of 0.7.30 and 2MT of mag lime/ac. We are going with a four-spray programme on the barley. In March, we went with Proline at 0.6l/ha, K2 at 1.25l/ha, Bravo at 1l/ha, Cereal Ultra at 1.5l/ha and Epsom salts at 4kg/ha. We came back on April 15 with Avena at 0.25l/ha, Enhancer at 1l/ha, Siltra at 0.4l/ha, and Bravo at 1l/ha. Four days later we went out with a growth regulator Terpal at 1l/ha. At the end of the month, we sprayed Cerone at 0.4l/ha, Modem at 0.4l/ha and Epsom salts at 5kg/ha. We will finish off the barley with Cauldron at 1l/ha, Amistar Opti at 1l/ha and Epsom salts at 5kg/ha.

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We also decided not to put in any oats this year. We try and look at what way the market is going to decide what to plant, but no sooner have we decided to grow one crop and not another, the price will change. But it meant we are lucky enough to have no spring crops this year. We took out 10ac of winter wheat two years ago and turned it back into a grass field because of the wet. We were very concerned about putting a very expensive combine through the crop again.

It's no good having a crop if it puts your machinery at risk and you end up with a huge repair bill or you leave your profit sitting in the field because you cannot get in to cut it. But if we knew then what we know now, we could have had a fine crop of wheat in it.

The one thing I have learned over the years is that we usually end up with an average rainfall, so if we get a dry spell, the chances are, it will be followed by a wet one.

Helen Harris farms with her husband, Philip, in Co Kildare. Email:

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