Tillage: Sludge could be a valuable resource - if it is properly managed
The harvest has finished up well, with sufficiently long dry spells to harvest the majority of the National acreage. Given the amount of rain that has fallen from July to October, that is a significant achievement. The 2015 season is continuing to be very compliant as it shifts to the 2016 season, as sowing continues apace.
There may be problems managing these early sown crops into excellent warm seedbeds, but it's preferable to manage difficult crops in the field than look at bags of seed in the shed overwinter.
The main lesson learnt from beans this year is that we don't know nearly enough about the crop in modern day production systems. This is dangerous given the acreage sown last year and hopefully the acreage that will be sustained into the future.
We need more information and again we have been found wanting in terms of providing basic research to grow our crops efficiently in our Irish climate. Too much of our basic information is more than 30 years old, or is taken directly from Britain or, even worse, taken from commercial company information.
Taking beans as a case in point, we don't know the optimum target plant stand, planting system, herbicide mixes, fertiliser level, or a definite answer to the previous no-no: application of nitrogen into the seedbed.
Most have an opinion on these after this year and indeed Oakpark is gathering information on some of these factors. 2015 and 2014 were atypical seasons, so it could be very dangerous to design production systems based on the outcomes of these seasons.
Taking seedbed nitrogen as a case in point, there are reports that seedbed nitrogen had some beneficial effect on some crops this year, but our 50-year-old mantra is that seedbed nitrogen has a negative effect on development the rhizobium bacteria, necessary for nitrogen fixing as the crop grows, but we have no definitive answers.
Taking up the point that my colleague PJ Phelan brought up last week regarding use of sludge on crops, this is another good example, and one of many, where up-stream and down-stream processors push all the risk onto primary producers. We, as primary producers, accept this risk without question.