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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Why a cold snap is good news for some crops

Sr Lily Scullion, of Glencairn Abbey, Lismore Co.Waterford, checking the Miscanthus Energy Crop before harvesting. Sr Lily runs the 200 acre farm at Glencairn Abbey, specialising in dry stock and tillage farming; wheat, barley, potato and fodder beat Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
Sr Lily Scullion, of Glencairn Abbey, Lismore Co.Waterford, checking the Miscanthus Energy Crop before harvesting. Sr Lily runs the 200 acre farm at Glencairn Abbey, specialising in dry stock and tillage farming; wheat, barley, potato and fodder beat Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan

Richard Hackett

Since the autumn sowing season commenced, every conversation on the weather (and there have been many) has ended with 'it can't last', but by and large this proclamation has been wrong, up to last week.

Many crops are still in rude health now and could have been in real difficulty if the law of averages of weather patterns didn't kick in sooner or later.

Many oilseed rape crops in particular look very strong for the time of year, some heading into flowering a month ahead of schedule.

What the impact on these highly bred varieties will be of flowering during shorter day length and wildly oscillating temperatures, time will tell.

In general terms though, temperate crops such as wheat, barley, oats and indeed oilseed rape crops have a much higher capacity to overcome weather variations than we give them credit for.

Despite huge variations in weather over the season, weather during grain fill is still the most critical time during a cropping season to impact on yield, so manage each crop on an individual basis to ensure that the maximum benefit can be gained from the advanced stages many of them are at.

One aspect that is evident in the strong growth patterns is the impact organic manures and good rotations are having on the crops, especially when used in combination in an overall planned programme.

This is especially evident where chemical fertiliser has been delayed, thick lush green crops have been blooming for the past few weeks, spurred on by high levels of mineralised nitrogen available in the soil.


Provided these can be successfully managed, these demonstrate the impact that adherence to the basics of good husbandry can have on our crops.

The dark green colours are evidence of the potential that organic manures and good fertile soils have in the ability to meet so much of the crop nutrient requirements.

Nutrients derived from these sources, though by no means cost free, are carbon neutral, are (by and large) not restricted by nitrates regulations and if not trapped by commercial crops for eventual sale as produce, would be at risk to loss to the environment via leaching to groundwater or by volatilising to the atmosphere.

The weather has delayed spring sowing especially with crops like beans, with the situation approaching the late point in some instances.

Recent research carried out by Teagasc would suggest that timing of spring beans sowing is not as critical as it once was thought. However, as we approach into April, it is getting on to expect maximum yields to be obtained.

The big fear with sowing spring beans late is not that the harvest will be late. Late sowing will have a small effect on harvest date, but will have a bigger impact on yield.

Since the establishment of the protein payment, spring beans has had some very good growing seasons.

However, it is not as 'dependable' a crop as cereals and good returns are more dependent on good weather patterns than good management.

As the acreage of the crop increases over different seasons, we are getting more of a handle of the vagaries of the crop in a modern context.

Given the protein payment, the positive impact it has on the soil structure and on the following cereal crop, spring beans has many advantages, but it still needs a high yield to 'wash its face' in a rotation.

For those who have signed up to the Glas tillage measures, a number of options will require attention in the next few weeks.

Selecting the locations for catch crop establishment post- harvest before Sept 15 next will need planning now. While established arable grass margins and environmental fallow cannot be touched between March 1 and September 1, many are getting very strong, so will need attention after September, but fencing must be checked.

For wild bird cover, where a one-year mix is used, livestock can and should be put onto the plot between March 15 and establishment of the new crop by May 31. This is to aid decomposition of the previous year's crop, which again are getting very strong in some cases.

While you're at it, have a walk around the other measures selected to ensure they still comply, especially options such as bird boxes, sand heaps etc. Just because everything was perfect last year, doesn't mean they still are, and 'it was fine last year' is not an excuse that will gain much traction with an inspecting officer.

 

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


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