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Thursday 8 December 2016

Our Farm: 'Every tractor in the parish was out sowing and drilling'

Helen Harris

Published 03/11/2016 | 06:00

The wind that shakes the barley: John Jenkinson from Ballywilliamroe, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow working the autumn light as he prepares the field for sowing winter barley. Photo Roger Jones
The wind that shakes the barley: John Jenkinson from Ballywilliamroe, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow working the autumn light as he prepares the field for sowing winter barley. Photo Roger Jones

The very wet September was followed by a few very welcome dry weeks in the beginning of October that meant we were working flat out. Every tractor in the parish was out ploughing, sowing and drilling.

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We were putting in the long hours to try and get harvest finished and as much of the winter crop in as time and weather would allow.   

We normally try to have winter crops as our plan A and if we don't get them in then we can try again in the spring with plan B. With such good weather in October after all the rain in September, I was very surprised that the Department. of Agriculture didn't extend the deadline for farmyard manures.    

It makes more sense to me to allow farmers to spread slurry in good ground conditions rather than forcing them to spread in bad conditions because of a particular date.

Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare
Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare

We got our beans cut and again this finished in the first week of October. It's the longest harvest for us, as we have never planted beans before.

They yielded well at 2.95 MT per acre, which we were happy with. I haven't had a chance to do a final costings on the beans but I have a feeling that they will end up as our most profitable crop.

The other advantage of beans was that we just disked the ground and planted straight in with winter wheat. This saved both time and money. The soil really tilled up well.

The varieties of winter wheat that we have sown this year are, the old reliable JB Diego, Avatar, Weaver, Lumos and a new variety, Costello.

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We sowed the wheat at 10 st per acre and as the month went on we gradually increased it to 10.5 st. per acre. We also got the winter barley in at 12 st per acre.

The varieties we put in this year are Cassia and Tower. Many farmers wailed to see if the ground conditions were suitable to get winter crops in only to discover that they couldn't get the variety of seed that they wanted.

We were worried we wouldn't get it all sown in time, so we got our home seed dressed in two lots rather than one just in case we got stuck with winter seed that we couldn't use.

The one thing that I really noticed this year was the difference in thousand-grain weight. Even the same variety of wheat or barley was dramatically different weight. This had to be taken into account when sowing and it meant we had to be extra careful calibrating the drill each time.

The oil seed rape is up and looking well. It has been damaged by both slugs and rabbits. We got the slug pellets out on time but have yet to deal with the rabbits. If we can get it well established before the weather gets cold, it will give it a great chance over winter.

This year, we hadn't forward- sold any grain, so it means we have full sheds that need regular checking. We have fans running when the weather is cold and dry.

We also have a grain thermometer to watch for hot spots. So far, the pedestal fans are keeping the grain well ventilated.

There is a lot of machinery that needs work after the long season. We put extra thick Tungston-tipped points on the plough and when I saw how thick they are I was very sceptical they would plough as well as normal points.

They are about double the thickness of a normal point and I think they have ploughed about 550 acres on the one set. They still have more acres left in them. We also changed the skimmers and put on trash boards, which also worked really well and meant I had no problems with stones getting caught.

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As long as the weather allows us to travel the ground we will be spraying over the next few weeks. We have made a list of all the little problems we had over the season that need attention during the winter. If I don't write it down its surprising how fast I forget what needs doing when you're not using the machine.

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

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