Sunday 25 September 2016

Tillage: A few hours of sunlight gave the whole farm a badly needed lift

Helen Harris

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

Eric Driver, Aoife Haskins, Susan Willis, Ricky Oliver and Hannah Driver from Tullow Macra na Feirme present a debfibrillator to Tullow mart to mark their 60th anniversary in business. Photo: Jer Gibbons.
Eric Driver, Aoife Haskins, Susan Willis, Ricky Oliver and Hannah Driver from Tullow Macra na Feirme present a debfibrillator to Tullow mart to mark their 60th anniversary in business. Photo: Jer Gibbons.

At last the days are getting that little stretch in them and the couple of bright days last week gave the whole farm a badly needed lift. The crops were very flat and lifeless and with a couple of good hours of sunshine they perked up and looked more alive than they have in a long time.

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The oil seed rape is still very bare after all the grazing it got from the pigeons. It will be a very small window between the crops looking alert to then looking pale and hungry.

Once the ground warms up the plants will be looking for all the right ingredients to grow. If we delay the fertiliser or don't put out enough the plant will struggle to perform at its optimum and this will reflect in lower yields.

The same is true the other way around and if we have taken from the soil in the form of grain and straw, then we need to replace that back into the soil again. This is taken into consideration when we are doing up our Nitrates Plan. We put in the average yield for each crop and then add what this year's crop needs to give us a total requirement.

We used the chicken litter pellets last year and found them to be very effective.

Not only are they a great slow release fertiliser but they are full of the good bugs that the soil needs and also provide calcium. They are also in a uniform size so that makes them easier to spread and gives us confidence that we are spreading them evenly.

The oil seed rape has already gotten five bags of pellets. This is the equivalent to 20.10.15 plus 5S. We are planning to get out as soon as we can travel on the ground with one bag of 10.7.23 followed by urea and more sulphur.

The prices of fertiliser is about €20/t less than last year. We would normally go with ASN for our nitrogen, but this year there is enough of a price difference to warrant going with urea. Although the price per tonne of ASN is slightly cheaper, the urea has a higher nitrogen content at 31.5pc nitrogen compared with 26pc in the ASN which makes the cost per unit of nitrogen much cheaper in urea.

The winter barley will get five bags of chicken pellets and four bags of 10.7.23 plus 2S, again that's as soon as we can travel. It will be the first crop to start to change colour if it doesn't get fertiliser.

I recently heard the adage for barley that for every day it's not going forward, it's going backwards.

We put in a couple of acres of oats as a cover crop and I'm amazed at how well it has grown. We spread it with a fertiliser spreader and disked it in. We now have to wonder will we leave it alone and keep it for seed for cover crops next year or spray it off and plant spring barley. With a price being offered for next harvest of €119 for green barley, we are tempted to leave it alone and save ourselves the expense of buying a cover crop.

The other question I have to ask is how, at that price, can farmers give mad money for rented ground?

Every year we hear the same stories about lads out bidding one another for land and with the price so low I just don't see the point. Or more to the point, I just don't see the profit. What do they know that I don't know?

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

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