Saturday 20 December 2014

Weather ceasefire ends with concerns for the 2013 season

Published 03/10/2012 | 06:00

It is amazing the way perspectives can change. When the weather improved a few weeks ago and the harvest was nearly completed, there was a huge sigh of relief that finally the weather had changed, and how hard done-by we were.

Looking back at it now, it looks like it was just a temporary ceasefire and that we were blessed it came at all and just in the nick of time.

The weather is now at the point where it is affecting the potential of the 2013 harvest.

Oilseed rape has been markedly affected already. The area sown has dropped considerably over what would have been planned a few weeks ago. More worryingly, seed that is in the ground was sown in borderline sowing conditions, into damaged subsoil and is struggling to establish itself.

The advantage is increasingly shifting towards slugs, crows and pigeons as the days shorten and temperatures drop.

Frequent monitoring of crops is essential and actions will have to be taken on weak crops to ensure that they don't succumb before they get going.

Where a herbicide hasn't been applied, graminicides may be necessary to control volunteer cereals soon.

However, only take this action where the crop is strong enough to take the punishment of a herbicide and also strong enough to bear the cost of application.

Ploughing is continuing for establishment of winter barley and winter wheat. It is interesting to hear the various adjectives used to describe the way land is turning up.

Slabby, fresh, tight, shiny, a mess, are all words used to describe the result of so much rain and compaction. Despite this, we now expect to beat this same soil into submission to sow winter crops.

It's not ideal by any stretch of the imagination and it will be difficult to make a decision on what to do. Ideally, the land should be left to dry out naturally before it is touched at all. But time is moving on and there is a lot of work to do, so waiting for the ideal time may not be advisable across all the land.

Perhaps another approach is to turn the land over, let it dry out for a day or two, consolidate it and leave for a while before sowing. Hopefully, the weather will be compliant enough to work along with this plan.

Some fields are so damaged that the only option is to leave them until the spring and wait for an opportunity for the land to dry out enough to subsoil before ploughing. Either way, the subsoil is far too wet to consider any deep cultivations now and the shallower you can work this autumn, the better it will be in the long term.

Potato crops have reached their potential at this point. With the short days soon upon us, low temperatures and low sunlight, further yield increments are unlikely and all crops should be desiccated to prepare for harvest at this stage.

It is always tempting to leave a late developing crop for another week to add just a small increase in size on each tuber to achieve a higher marketable yield. However, once you get past the middle of September, three weeks' growth is required to achieve what one week in July would easily achieve.

At this point, the priority is to get the crop harvested. So the message here is take what you have got and then focus on getting it harvested.

Crops are tending to have very high dry matters, with 24-26pc dry matter common. This would appear counter-intuitive given that many crops have been wet since they were planted. This is probably due to poor growing conditions and the lack of bulking up of crops.

It is interesting that 15t/ac at 20pc dry matter is exactly the same dry matter as 12t/ac at 25pc. But the potato industry hasn't really moved towards paying on the basis of dry matter and a grower is far better off selling the 15t at 20pc than the 12t at 25pc. In terms of use however, the end user is getting far better value from the 25pc product.

Regarding harvesting, high dry matter crops present a conundrum. They are very susceptible to internal bruising, cracking and mechanical damage. As a result, they need to be handled very carefully at harvest.

This will demand huge attention to detail at harvest and constant monitoring of loads into store to assess levels of damage. Wet drills also tend to dry out very hard and will break into heavy lumps at harvest. The situation facing growers can be best described by the analogy of digging eggs out from concrete. It's not a million miles away from what faces growers as the harvester hits the field this year.

Dr Richard Hackett is a crop consultant and member of the ACA and ITCA email: richard.hackett@itca.ie

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