Tuesday 27 September 2016

Every delay costs money

PJ Phelan

Published 09/09/2015 | 02:30

Oilseed rape in full bloom. Photo: Roger Jones.
Oilseed rape in full bloom. Photo: Roger Jones.

The long grain fill period has paid a grain yield dividend but at the expense of a delayed harvest.

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Early September brought cooler conditions with frequent showers and very few opportunities for harvest. While there has been very little straw breakdown so far, crops sprayed pre-harvest with glyphosate are at risk and must be prioritised.

The harvest pressure is over for farmers who had winter barley as their main crop so consider looking to them to help with harvesting spring crops. The sooner you call on them the less risk of harvest losses and the sooner you can get on with autumn sowings.

Every delay at this stage costs you money through either harvest losses or poorer establishment of winter crops.

The shorter the period between grain harvest and seed sowing, the shorter the period in which to control weed seeds and volunteers. This year's moist soil conditions should result in a high rate of early weed seed germination and a great opportunity for pre-sowing herbicide.

However, moist soil conditions will also reduce the effectiveness of stubble cultivations in killing germinated weeds.

Delay sowing dirty fields as long as possible (at least one month), so as to spray with glyphosate before sowing. This is particularly important if you have perennial weeds, wild oats or brome.

Heavy rainfall on August 22 and 23 prevented the pre-emerge herbicide application on freshly sown oilseed rape, which had to be delayed until the seed leaves were fully extended.

Rape crops must now be monitored for both slugs and flea beetle. With the loss of Methiocarb (Draza), which was the mainstay of most farmers for slug control you will have to use either ferric phosphates or metaldehyde.

Both are effective but you need to read the product labels and inspect crops carefully until you build knowledge and experience of the products.

Current soil moisture levels are such that slug damage is highly likely. Be particularly careful of fields after oilseed rape or fields with lots of trash.

Slug movement will be minimised by fine firm seedbeds. Be cautious of any seeding systems that tend to smear soils or leave channels along which slugs may travel.

Where slug populations are known to be high, an application of slug pellets four to seven days before sowing may be the best option. The other major issue this autumn is the loss of the neonicotinoid seed dressings. This leaves every crop exposed to risk of total loss by flea beetle for which we now have to rely on insecticide application - mostly pyrethroids. Prior to the ban we would not have used pyrethroids on rape in the autumn.

Extra usage will put additional resistance pressure on pyrethroids on which we are almost totally reliant for BYDV control. It is also a serious precedent to put prohibition of a product in place without scientifically proven evidence.

Did we do something similar, and ignore science, when we allowed the soil phosphorus indices to be adjusted on grassland for the nitrate regulations? Is that a major contributor to the collapse in soil fertility levels on many farms? If phosphorus was the major problem, why have we not got an improvement in water quality?

The next few weeks will see a considerable amount of cattle pig and poultry slurry spread on tillage lands. The current value of cattle and pig slurry is in the order of €25/1,000 gallons and €35/t for poultry manure. Soil and slurry/manure testing is very important so as to ensure that you are getting what is needed as you will generally have to address imbalances with chemical fertiliser. Slurry or manure is probably the only means of improving old tillage soils without reseeding back to grass. Reseeding is no longer an option if you want to maintain tillage area as there is very little new land available.

The current downturn in almost all agricultural product prices may bring back some bit of realism to land rental prices but the fact that consolidation is no longer an option for entitlements may bring its own problems.

This time last year all the talk was about the three crop rule and how to manage it. You are still faced with the same issues for the coming years so if your plan is not yet in place now is the time to do so. For those who have opted for catch cropping under GLAS you should sow at least a small area by September 15 to see what might suit you best for the future.

PJ Phelan is an advisor based in Tipperary and a member of the ACA and ITCA

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