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Saturday 16 December 2017

A great time of year for tillage farmers to catch up on dreaded paperwork

Tillage farmer George Walsh has jumped on to the dairy bandwagon.
Tillage farmer George Walsh has jumped on to the dairy bandwagon.
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

For most tillage farmers January is a time for catching up on paperwork and trying to keep out of all this wild weather. We had a grain assurance inspection early in the month and it motivated me to start all the other office work I put off until now.

The grain assurance scheme is a voluntary scheme which we get inspected on every year. It gives growers, buyers and consumers great confidence in the whole 'farm to fork' concept.

We record exactly how we grow the crop and our facilities. It is also a great record to keep for the future. I am always amazed how fast I forget what field grew what in such a short time.

I also used this chance to start our nitrates plan to figure out what and how much fertiliser we will be using this year. I have heard since last autumn about it being cheaper this year.

We forward bought some at the time. However, I have seen this pattern before. Well before we start spreading, you can get it cheaper and then by the time we need it, it is either the same or more expensive than the previous year.

Despite the wild weather, what I couldn't postpone were all the farmers that needed soil samples taken, including ourselves. We cover the Kildare area for Teagasc. Anyone needing soil samples taken had to get it done before the slurry went out.

I really don't understand who is making the decision that slurry was not allowed to be spread during December when we had great soil and weather conditions. Now the fields are waterlogged and the slurry storage is at the maximum. Most farmers, especially the dairy farmers, have to get slurry out as soon as possible.

We left the warm office and paperwork and ventured outside. Normally we enjoy travelling around to farmers and chatting to them about farm life. January was a different story, with the rain lashing down on top of us. As the sleet and hail stung our cheeks it ran down the inside of the waterproofs.

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It was only a matter of time before we were drowned and numb. Another change of clothes and out we went again. It was hard work. It was impossible to keep maps and notes dry so I'm left with a lot of soggy paper.

We have been doing soil samples on our own farm for the last few years. When I sat down to work out the nitrates I found many were more than five years old or not enough had been done in a particular field.

Our plan is to soil sample the whole farm this year and then in the coming years try and use the information better. At all the tillage conferences we have been to most agree that 'precision farming' is the future.

We are getting GPS with our new Bogballe fertiliser spreader. Armed with more information and more technology we hope to be able to treat each field separately to get the best from each one. The days of blanket spreading fertiliser are gone. It is too expensive to waste.

Sometimes, all you need to do is to check the pH level and spread lime to get the best benefit. If you don't soil sample you are only guessing. Many people are shocked just how low levels can go in a few short years.

As we went around every field it was a very good exercise to check all the crops. The oil seed rape is getting badly attacked by pigeons. It was a good bit later last year when they started to land, so this is a concern.

We planted slightly earlier this year to give the crop a good canopy. The pigeons don't like to get their wings wet when landing. If the plant covers the ground it does help prevent them coming in. The plant itself is good and strong but when it stopped growing it seemed to slightly flatten which has allowed the birds to get in.

Helen and Philip Harris are tillage farmers in Co. Kildare. Email: helenharrisfarm@gmail.com Twitter: P&H Harris@kildarefarmer

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