Farm Ireland

Friday 21 October 2016

Tillage: The latest Teagasc figures reinforce the message about the folly of costly conacre

PJ Phelan

Published 10/02/2016 | 02:30

Wake-up call: Conacre prices.
Wake-up call: Conacre prices.

The suggestion, last week in this section, by Pat Minnock for leaving some land fallow shocked some farmers and acted as a real wake-up call for conacre prices.

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The launch of the Teagasc Costs and Returns 2016, at the Tillage Conference later in the week, showing that a 3 tonne/acre crop of spring barley is only break-even on owned land reinforces Pat's message.

The option of dropping expensive conacre and leasing out entitlements will have to be taken on lands that made little or no profit last year. Farmers who have a large bank of owned land or money can continue to rent land but if you are in the business to make profit you will have to rent land at substantially lower prices than last year.

Despite the continuous rainfall winter crops have done very well on free draining soils with good plant stands and tillering. Winter barley crops that received a growth regulator last autumn have up to 6-10 tillers/plant. Some of the looser textured soils are showing evidence of lack of soil consolidation between wheelings, with reduced plant stands and poorer tillering.

Deficiency symptoms

Those areas, if marginal in trace elements, are also beginning to show deficiency symptoms.

Plants in low lying areas of most fields and heavy soils have turned yellow or died due to soil saturation and flooding. An early N, P, K fertiliser application, as soon as soil can take traffic, will kick start the yellow crops; areas where plants have died may be left fallow or reseeded. Areas where spring plant recovery is poor will also be most prone to aphid attack and virus transmission.

The response to autumn weed control has been excellent. There was no opportunity in January to get in to do any spraying and the start date in February now looks to be close to the end of the month. Even if you could travel, herbicide application is not allowed on waterlogged soils or crops suffering from stress.

Alister, a wheat only product, has a 'Latest Time of Application' of before growth stage 30; products containing DFF such as Hurricance, Stride and Diflanil 500 must be used before gs 31. Firebird containing both DFF and Flufenacet had a cut off date of December 31.

Read pesticide labels carefully and pay particular attention to wash out procedures. Let this be the year that we have no crop damage to sprayer residues in tanks.

Most sprayer operators have now completed the required training courses and have registered with the Department as a Professional User (PU) and have been allocated a PU number.

Your pesticide records, since November 26, 2015 must include the PU number of the person who carried out the spraying.

The next major requirement is that all sprayers must be tested by November 26, 2016.

Approved sprayer testers report heavy bookings and while few tests have been finalised yet most sprayers require minor if not major work in order to meet the standards.

The cost of the test and indeed to cost of repairs will be relatively low relative to the cost of chemicals going through the sprayer and the harvested crop value.

With chemicals costing in the order of €7,000 /100 acres for spring crops and €12,000/ac for winter wheat with corresponding crop values of €40,000 to €60,000, and hopefully more, a small improvement in application efficiency and crop response will pay better dividends than any other investment you will make this year. A 1pc yield response on €40,000 to €60,000 will give €4,000 to €6,000.

That may well represent a large percentage of your profit for the year.

If you could achieve a similar improvement from fertiliser usage you would be well on the way to achieving a reasonable profit.

The areas for attention are selection of the correct fertiliser selection (soil analysis and fertiliser plan), correct timing of application and achievement of a good spread pattern.

Fertiliser will cost you €13,000 (spring crops) to €18,000 (winter wheat) per 100 acres this year and you will spread 35-46t on the 100ac. Fertiliser is both corrosive and abrasive so wearing parts are under pressure. On disc machines pay particular attention to the vanes and if you find ridging and worst still holes it is time for replacement.

When you think everything is in order test your spreader in the field by putting out trays collecting the fertiliser and weighing (or check height of fertiliser in a narrow bore vessel) the amount in each tray. A variation of more than 15pc is not acceptable.

PJ Phelan is a tillage advisor based in Tipperary and is a member of the ACA and ITCA

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