Business Farming

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Weather window saves the day for the 2012 harvest

Pat Minnock

Published 19/09/2012 | 06:00

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From 0-60mph in 10 seconds is terminology that is familiar to many. From 30-90pc in 10 days is terminology that is not familiar to anybody, but could be coined in relation to the 2012 harvest.

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This year's harvest will no doubt go down as one of the most difficult and frustrating in recent times.

With rainfall levels at record highs for the harvest period, it is remarkable that the harvest was eventually completed so quickly.

The only decent harvest weather ran during the 10 days from Thursday, August 30 to Sunday, September 9, and saw the harvest progress from approximately 30pc completed to about 90pc.

For the most part, only spring wheat, oil seed rape and beans remain to be harvested. Great credit is due to all growers, but particularly to their combine operators and contractors.

They revealed huge commitment to ensure the harvest of 2012 was not completely lost.

I know of many incidents where combines were bogged and even new combines required towing out of fields.

This is not a situation that combine owners anticipate or that combines themselves are able to cope with.

There were extremely variable yields this year, with winter wheat ranging from 1.5t/ac to 4.5t/ac, and averaging at between 3.1t/ac and 3.3t/ac. Spring barley yields ranged from 1.5t/ac to 3.5t/ac, with an average of between 2.6t/ac and 2.8t/ac.

While quality was generally poorer than previous years, it improved in later crops.

It also appears that the gross financial output per acre did not fall substantially from 2011.

While it appears that winter wheat yields are back approximately 0.75t/ac and spring barley up to 0.5t/ac, the output per acre remains similar.

This is of little consolation to those farmers who embraced the forward-selling concept. Many have lost money by selling forward this year.

Nonetheless, this is no reason to abandon this concept and it should probably be embraced further for the coming season.

It is something that is very difficult to get right and is an area that growers and advisers need to become more comfortable with to ensure better returns.

The main grain-growing areas of the country, the south and south-east, appear to have borne the brunt of the heavy rainfall, particularly in August, with rainfall 225pc above the monthly average recorded in Johnstown Castle and 192pc in Cork.

soften

Grain prices remain strong, with €220/t available for wheat and up to €210/t for feed barley and €252/t for malting barley. Such prices are helping to soften the blows for many.

Growers are again considering their cropping programmes for 2013, with oilseed rape already planted. The ideal date for planting this crop has now passed.

If planting from now on, you can be assured of a significant yield penalty. If you are anxious to plant oilseed rape for 2013, I suggest you wait to plant the spring crop, which has good potential if planted early and well managed.

Monitor winter rape emergence closely for slugs by placing slug bait in a number of areas around fields.

Every year there are discussions on the value/returns from second and continuous wheat.

However, when the weather allows, despite last year's harsh lessons, optimistic farmers plant unsuitable ground with wheat.

Again, in 2012 there are numerous examples of first wheat crops outyielding second and continuous wheat by at least 0.75t/ac.

Growing 2.75-3.5t/ac makes no economic sense, especially if 2.7-3t/ac of spring barley can be achieved.

Generally, it is the better growers on the better ground who grow winter wheat.

But it is easier and less expensive in many situations to achieve greater returns from spring barley.

If you want to continue with winter wheat production, it is vital to plan for the crop and incorporate break crops into rotation.

While some continuous wheat performed reasonably well this year, this was the exception rather than the rule.

Again, when a full analysis is being undertaken on the 2012 season, we must question the large fungicide spend on winter wheat.

The almost fanatical adherence to the new SDHI chemistry for the control of septoria must now be reassessed.

This high fungicide spend was, in my opinion, not recouped, particularly as ear diseases had a greater influence this year.

The inability of fungicides to control ear diseases is worrying and while these are not always a problem, they are having a greater influence year on year.

Finally, remember to complete your records for 2012 before they are forgotten.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow-based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and ITCA. www.minnockagri.ie

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