Farm Ireland

Monday 23 October 2017

Assessing BETTER crop development

As we go further into spring, we get the lowdown on how crops are performing around the country

Crops are just getting into their stride as soil temperatures improve
Crops are just getting into their stride as soil temperatures improve

Michael Hennessy

The BETTER Farm concept that has been rolled out so successfully in the beef and dairy sector is now getting under way in the tillage sector.

The aim is to improve the technical efficiency of all tillage farmers by using several farms around the country as benchmarks for transferring knowledge to other farmers.

This is the second instalment of three on the BETTER crop farms.


It's been a busy two weeks for the Crowleys, whose main tasks were delivering grain and straw, fertiliser applications and sowing.

"Our free flowing land has allowed us to get spring barley sown two weeks ago in relatively good conditions," said John Crowley.

The break in the weather allowed the application of pig slurry to the ground prior to ploughing.

"We reckon the application of 2,000ga of pig slurry per acre will save us around the same value as two bags of 10:10:20/ac."

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Research has shown to get the best out of pig slurry, rapid incorporation is essential.

"It was difficult to get all the pig slurry ploughed down within two hours to trap the maximum amount of nitrogen, but we did the best we could," said John.

One of the main obstacles to getting this right was having enough slurry in the field to keep ahead of the plough. But John thinks the system can be significantly improved next year to ensure the best incorporation possible.

The last of the Crowleys spring barley was planted last week as some of their heavier land needed the full two weeks to dry out. Quench was the main variety planted and John is always anxious to incorporate 75kg/ac of 10:10:20 into the seed bed to aid establishment and boost early growth.

Rhyncho in winter barley has become a hot topic in the past few weeks but the Crowleys' crops remain relatively clean. Saffron has some fresh rhyncho but levels are low. Formosa and Sequel winter barley have almost no signs of disease so far.

John is planning to apply a three-spray fungicide strategy on the winter barleys. Due to the disease levels, the first application started at the end of last week on Saffron, while the other varieties will be sprayed a week to 10 days later.

On the marketing front, John is happy he has some of his grain forward sold but, as he said, harvest is a long way off and nobody knows which way prices will go from here.

Denis Snr, John and Denis Crowley farm 950ac of wheat and barley outside Mallow.


When talking to George and Ken Williamson, they were reflective about resowing oats last week.

"We put the decision off as long as possible but we decided to plough up around 30pc of our winter oats" said Ken. "Plant counts on some of the fields are reasonable at 110-140/m2 and we think these crops have the potential to deliver 2.5t/ac."

The financial margin on these crops will outstrip a good yielding crop of spring barley. The Williamsons replanted spring oats into this ground as they want to keep the rotation intact and are hoping for a lift in oat prices. The remaining crops of winter oats have received 50kg/ha (40 units/ac) of nitrogen a couple of weeks ago and will get another boost of nitrogen in a fortnight.

All winter wheat and barley have received their P and K and have received 75kg/ha (60 units/ac) of nitrogen.

"Our crops are starting to green up after the nitrogen application a couple of weeks ago, but the cold dry weather slowed growth considerably," said George.

Despite these crops being quite disease free, the barley will get three fungicides this year with the first starting this week.

The weed pressure was not especially high this year in the Williamsons' winter wheat crops.

"We finished applying Alistair to winter wheats last week, with the main targets annual meadow grass, wild oats and some soft broad leaved weeds" said George.

All the Willaimsons' ploughing was completed in excellent conditions and the first of the spring barley will be planted this week if the weather holds.

"About half our land is suitable for planting in March, with the rest best left until the land warms up," said Ken.

Last year the Williamsons planted spring barley on a heavy field on April 12 and it went on to yield 3.5t/ac. Snakebite and Frontier will be the main varieties planted this year, as they have consistently delivered on the farm.

"From observations and results of the Department of Agriculture variety trials on our land, we will plant some Propino this year," said Ken. "Our preferred seeding rate will be 170kg/ha (11st/ac) with Propino planted a little heavier due to its larger thousand grain weight."

George and Ken Williamson farm just over 320ac in south Wexford. They also do local contracting .


"The significant drop in grain prices over the past three weeks should help growers refocus on attainable margins," according to Joe O'Donoghue.

Land rental prices rarely appeared to reflect the potential returns from cereals and this year is no exception in the Meath-Dublin catchment.

"Unless growers have 100pc of their crops sold forward at over €200/t dried, which is unlikely, then budgets need to be adjusted to reflect lower prices quoted today," he added.

Forward selling has been a feature on the O'Donoghues farm this year, which appears to be a good decision as of this week.

"Only time will tell if forward selling was the correct decision but it allows some comfort when forward markets plummet by €40/t" said Joe.

All winter crops are looking well on the O'Donoghue farm and have responded to last week's growth. Manganese deficiency has shown up in a crop of wheat.

"This field has a history of manganese deficiency and I try to target an early application before significant growth starts," said Joe.

Early nitrogen has been applied to all crops, with 70kg/ha (56 units/ac) applied so far. Unlike many other crops, the O'Donoghues' winter barleys are clean so far and the fungicide programme is likely to start next week.

"The fungicide, Helix, has worked well over the past few years and this will be my first fungicide on winter barley, depending on price," said Joe. A three-spray fungicide programme will again be used.

Joe is planning to follow his discussion group's advice and leave out the TO on winter wheat as the group felt the application was unlikely to lead to yield increases. Instead, the group members were confident of applying the T1 to the third last leaf fully emerged.

Spring planting didn't start until late last week as the O'Donoghues' land is heavy and needs at least two weeks of good drying weather before they would consider planting it.

If the weather holds, Joe hopes to plant a good proportion of the ground but the decision to plant is based entirely on ground conditions.

Spring barley is sown using an initial run of a powerharrow combined with fertiliser placement followed by a powered cultivator seed-drill The main varieties which will be planted this year are Quench and Cropton with some Propino.

Ground ploughed up reasonably well but further cultivation is needed.

"Our land is heavy so it can be cold," said Joe. "Therefore, we prefer planting seed with fertiliser placed at the root zone to help establishment."

Brothers Joe and Colm O'Donoghue farm 667ac of wheat and barley in east Meath

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