Farm Ireland

Thursday 27 October 2016

Why was 2015 just as good for yield as 2014?

Pat Minnock

Published 16/09/2015 | 02:30

How do you moo? Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan TD with Sintija Zorge and First Prize Belgian Blue Heifer at Tullamore Show at the official launch of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Co. Laois. Picture: Jeff Harvey
How do you moo? Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan TD with Sintija Zorge and First Prize Belgian Blue Heifer at Tullamore Show at the official launch of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Co. Laois. Picture: Jeff Harvey

The late harvest is finally showing signs of wrapping up.

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The good weather over the last fortnight has allowed a lot of harvesting to be completed. Over 90pc of all cereals has been harvested in the south and south east, whereas in the northern half of the country over 80pc has been completed.

The main crops still to be harvested are spring wheat and beans. Yields and quality appear to have held well considering that the summer of 2015 has been wet.

Yet it was totally different from the summer of 2014, which also produced good yields, so it is difficult task to try to explain how yields appear to have even surpassed those of 2014.

In 2014 it was accepted that the good summer suited crops. However, this year saw a late cold spring followed by a relatively wet and poor summer. The late cold spring is no doubt responsible for the late harvest, but there was also a very long grain filling period which appears to have helped yields.

There was a lot of rain this summer. It was constant and obviously occurred at the right time. As a result there was probably a better release of residual soil nitrogen. The expected high disease levels, particularly wet weather diseases, such as septoria and rhynchosporium, never materialised which obviously has also helped yields.

While yields of over 5t of winter wheat, over 4t of winter barley and even 4t of spring barley were regularly achieved, there was plenty of variation, even on individual farms.

This is probably more concerning because it should be possible that all crops achieve similar yields with similar management.

So again there is the need to assess, on a field by field basis, how the poorer individual field yields can be improved.

There are some very obvious reasons for variation, none more so than rotation, with second wheats in particular yielding up to one tonne less per acre.

With winter barley performing so well over the last few years, I believe it is time to ignore second wheats in most cases. The new varieties of winter barley are performing very well and are cheaper to grow than wheat.

Yields of winter oats varied from 3 to 4.5t. I would put much of this variability down to potash levels in soils. This is one crop that benefits enormously from potash.

In general all growers should seriously look at soil results particularly if good yields have been achieved because higher yields remove greater quantities of phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) from the soil.

Nitrates Directive

It is vital that nutrients removed through higher yields be replaced to continue to achieve improved yields.

Unfortunately, despite the apparent improvement in the weather, the Nitrates Directive dictates that chemical fertiliser cannot be applied from today until the January 13 next.

This will mitigate against increasing yields especially on low fertility soils.

Winter oilseed rape has also performed well with yields from 1.6t to 2.4t/ac. Despite the delayed harvest it appears that the acreage of winter oilseed rape has remained at last year's level. Monitor emerging rape for flea beetle and slug damage.

It is now too late to sow rape, even if growers are still tempted.

Good soil conditions will help late planted crops and the seed rates should be increased by up to 20pc extra with hybrids planted at 40 to 50 seeds per metre squared and conventional varieties at 75 to 90 per metre squared.

Sowing of winter barley and winter wheat will now also commence. However, I would prefer to delay winter wheat planting for a few more weeks. Winter barley seed should be treated with the aphid deterrent, Redigo Deter.

Price for grain remains a major problem. There is no doubt that the high yields coupled with lack of storage and very poor demand leads to weak sellers.

The last three years have resulted in bumper harvests around the world, and high maize stocks and its very competitive pricing has greatly affected grain prices.

It is frightening to think that the if the dollar has not appreciated by 25pc over the last year, prices could be at least €15/t lower than they even are today.

Green prices currently available at €130 to €140/t for barley, with €10 extra for wheat, probably do not fully reflect current dried prices available.

For this reason, I believe this is the year that it will pay to store grain on the home farm or try to do a deal with your merchant to sell grain in the future.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA.

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