Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 23 July 2017

Increased profit the focus of combi-crop

Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

An innovative group of farmers in Carlow are among the first in Ireland to grow a new tillage crop, known as combi-crop, which is a mixture of barley and peas. Balfarm, the group from Ballon, recently held a farm walk with a British consultant to assess the yield and potential of this pioneering new crop.

I attended the farm walk earlier this month, organised by one of my clients who is a member of the Balfarm Group, and was impressed -- if not a little dubious -- by what it's claimed the crop can achieve.

The walk was led by John Faulconbridge, from Western Seeds, a British-based group which is promoting the growing of the combi-crop.

The particular crop in question consists of 60pc barley (Westminster variety) and 40pc peas (Profit variety) and is sown at around 100kg/ac. The actual percentage mix is important to ensure a balance between nitrogen fixation and ensuring that the crop remains standing.

The idea behind the crop is that a farmer will have a good balanced high protein/high starch ration for feeding to animals, especially suitable for dairy cows.

This ration would require little or no supplementation with protein and would be ideal for tillage farmers for inter-trading to their neighbouring farms, and thus further help to eliminate a major cost in the supply chain from forage production to forage usage.

There has been an expression of interest from a local merchant in handling produce.

Costs


There are several hundred acres of the crop grown in the locality and, to date, it appears that the material costs for this crop is less than €80/ac. The crop in question had only received a herbicide (Stomp Aqua), no fungicide and 40 units of nitrogen per acre.

When this is compared to standard spring barley costs of €140-150/ac, it appears very attractive. On the date of the farm walk, the crops were fairly disease-free with only low levels of net blotch present.

Mr Faulconbridge estimated a potential yield of 2-2.5t/ac and, judging by the crop viewed, I would estimate that, depending on the ability to harvest the peas, the potential crop yield could well exceed 2.5t. He also suggested that, in order to maximise uptake of the leguminous nitrogen that the crop generates, 2-3kg/ac of a perennial grass seed could be sown at about growth stage 31 of the barley.

This would ensure all the residual nitrogen is mopped up and additional value can then be obtained by grazing the stubbles after the harvest. In addition to the feeding value of the grain crop, the feeding value and palatability of the straw is significantly better than barley straw.

While the concept of the crop sounds good, I remain sceptical in relation to its handling and harvesting. I fail to see how -- as advised by Mr Faulconbridge -- it would be possible to harvest the two crops (barley and peas) with a combine harvester at the one time without significant losses, particularly of peas. The inclusion of a third crop -- grass -- is likely to add further difficulties to the harvesting operation, especially when you consider the weather of the past two harvests.

Mr Faulconbridge maintained that, when harvesting, the peas will be at the bottom of the crop and will be easily picked up by the table of the combine. This remains to be seen.

The crop can actually be harvested in several ways, either as a whole crop, crimped grain, unripe grain for a caustic soda treatment, moist grain for treatment with proprionic acid or combine harvested when dry.

The land owner's intention is to harvest this crop with the combine. I will await with interest its harvest, and subsequent handling and use. Mr Faulconbridge said a premium of up to 25pc (depending on protein levels) is attainable.

The Balfarm group of farmers is to be commended for its initiative in trying a new crop. The reduced costs associated with the crop are unlikely to lead to any greater income loss than might be experienced if a crop of spring barley was grown.

Pat Minnock is an agricultural consultant based in the Carlow area. He is president of the Agricultural Consultants Association and a member of the Irish Tillage Consultants Association. He can be contacted by emailing pat@minnockagri.ie or view his website, www.minnockagri.ie.

The combicrop website is www.combicrop.com.

Irish Independent