Farm Ireland

Thursday 27 October 2016

Tillage: Modern winter wheat varieties are vulnerable to poor conditions

Richard Hackett

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

Pictured at the Teagasc winter feeding event in Thurles Mart are Michael White, Teagasc Thurles, John Crowe, Tipperary and Diarmuid Grant, Drombane. Photo O'Gorman Photography.
Pictured at the Teagasc winter feeding event in Thurles Mart are Michael White, Teagasc Thurles, John Crowe, Tipperary and Diarmuid Grant, Drombane. Photo O'Gorman Photography.

For many growers, December has become a month of office work, gathering information for records and compliance purposes and spending time planning for the forthcoming season.

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There was a time that winter wheat could be sown in November/December with a high probability of success in most cases.

Granted, weather conditions like the conditions we are currently experiencing were never suitable for sowing anything.

Winter wheat, however, was often flung into conditions that could best be described as 'sub-optimal', yet the crop would often emerge maybe eight weeks later in strong vibrant rows ready for a burst of growth in the February gales.

This situation has changed a lot.

Loss of any effective seed dressing for bird control is a major reason for this change, but modern varieties also seem to be more highly strung, and are much less able to cope with any adverse conditions than older varieties were.

There is also the factor that we were better able to tolerate poor establishment, bare patches or poor crops when margins weren't so tight.

Nowadays, any bare patch in a field could well result in the whole field dying in debt, regardless of how the rest of the field grows.

Given the autumn we have enjoyed, there is very little land that was planned for winter cereals that isn't sown, emerged and established enough to take on anything the winter can throw at it.

But there are always some parcels left to be sown.

For these parcels, seed will remain in the bag until well into the new-year and that is where it should remain, the risk of sowing into poor conditions is far too high nowadays.

One idea that is often put forward, most often by those not directly involved, is that the only way that many sectors of the agricultural industry can survive is by establishing producer organisations.

The arguments put forward can often be compelling.

The idea of individual growers banding together to take on the might of the supermarkets or processors seems very plausible, with potential efficiencies being available all over the place.

Cheaper transport, cheaper storage and packing facilities, more scale to woo potential input suppliers all point towards cheaper production costs and therefore more profit for the grower.

There are many potential pitfalls from such arrangements.

The reason I bring this up now is that one of the biggest risks to such arrangements has been demonstrated before our very eyes recently.

The main problem that I see with communal collaborations is that over time, profits accumulate, and large sums of money which are not 'owned' by anybody begin to stack up.

Even assuming no clandestine activity, such accumulations of money can skew decisions over time.

All of a sudden people are 'worth it', brushed stainless steel and tempered glass is more apparent in the boardroom than the prep room, and management structures more akin to the Victorian British army are all of a sudden deemed essential.

In short, the structure that is initially designed to take out production costs is now adding to production costs.


Another risk of individuals gathering together into a single large group, is that one big group can became a much more lucrative target to those who wish to impose their will on suppliers.

While there are schemes to address costs incurred in establishing producer groups, is it a good use of public funds to meet costs that are not essentially incurred in the first place?

There are examples of where producer organisations do work, but there are also plenty of examples where they fail in a hideously expensive mess.

Proponents of the idea of producer groups are often disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm many practitioners have towards the idea.

Yet perhaps people on the cutting edge, based on experience or just from gut instinct, know that there are many potential pitfalls to voluntarily ceding control of your business into the hands of board members.

Nollaig shona daoibh.

Dr Richard Hackett is an agronomist based in North County Dublin and is a member of the ITCA and ACA.

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