Farm Ireland

Tuesday 25 October 2016

The winter oilseed rape is planted and already up

Helen Harris

Published 07/09/2016 | 02:30

Oilseed rape crop
Oilseed rape crop

We have finished our harvest for the time being. We have beans and spring oil seed rape to cut in a few weeks. I have to say that for crops that cost less than their winter cousins they look very good.

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I won't count my chickens as I have made that mistake before about crops that are not cut. It's only when they are safely in the shed that you can honestly say how they yielded.

The spring oilseed rape has great big pods on it which is a good sign. The beans on the other hand are going black and I'm glad they are not beside the road or we would have the neighbours asking us what went wrong with that crop as they are so dirty looking.

On our recent farm trip to the US we attended a workshop on soil health. As a result we decided that we would try and chop the straw back into the ground in 50ac blocks, rotating the blocks every year.

The reason is to increase organic matter and improve soil health and structure. In the USA they are trying to help keep moisture in and stop soil erosion. In Ireland we are trying to do the opposite and help drainage and keep a good structure, to help with compaction. If we rotate the 50ac block we will gradually cover the whole farm rather than do it all at once.

The rest of the crops all did ok but were nothing special. Because last year was such a good yield for us I thought that was the way that we were going to continue. Sometimes Mother Nature has different ideas.

The winter wheat varieties were JB Diego which is normally an old reliable for very good reason, it doesn't let you down on a difficult year like we have had.

However, this year it only did 3.7 t/ac, while Lilli that got the chicken littler last year did better at 4 t/ac. Torp did 3.9t/ac and Weaver, which was a first wheat after oilseed rape, did 4.4t/ac. These yields are all at 15pc moisture.

We were very lucky that we managed to cut most of ours at about 16-18pc moisture which is ideal.

When we dry all our own grain it's a huge help if it's coming in at that moisture because anything lower and its difficult to get it cleaned without it getting too dry.

Any higher it's very expensive to drop down to 14pc moisture.

In the middle of all the running around we had to drop the trailers and put on the plough to sow the winter oilseed rape. Our seeding rate was 187g/ha. This is the lowest seeding rate we have ever used.

To see the little bit of seed at the bottom of the bucket and to think that had to cover a full hectare.

We spread chicken litter on the field at 3.5t/ac and ploughed it in. In a matter of days it was already up and growing. When the soil temperatures are as warm as they are now (16-17C) the seeds germinate amazingly fast. Straight away they were hit with slugs so we had to put out pellets to control them.

When we cut this year's oilseed rape we got 1.5t/ac, which is only just above break even on owned ground.

This was disappointing but we do see a definite bounce in the yield of winter wheat the following year.

Does the extra yield on year two make up for the loss of money on the year it's grown? I think when we take this into account there is very little difference between the rotation and continuous wheats financially, except that there's a definite benefit to the soil and weed control. It has especially helped where we have had brome and grass weed problems.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co. Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer.

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