Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Avoid sowing until mid-December or January to control vermin threat

Macra president Michael Gowing (second left) congratulates Macra's winning All-Ireland impromtu debating team of Evan Stanley (left), Kieran Foley and Aoife Connors
Macra president Michael Gowing (second left) congratulates Macra's winning All-Ireland impromtu debating team of Evan Stanley (left), Kieran Foley and Aoife Connors

Richard Hackett

The weather has called a halt to all field activities. Some maize and potatoes are still to be harvested, as are plenty of vegetables that remain in the ground until suitable for sale. However, field activities have been completed in good time in most circumstances and monitoring of crops is all that is required for the remainder of the winter.

Any land yet to be sown, particularly after maize, potatoes or vegetables, should probably be left until after the New Year. Crops sown at this time of the year into poor seedbeds will struggle to emerge over the winter and will probably end up gappy in the spring, requiring extra care, attention and money spent -- all for a much lower yield potential.

November-sown crops are expected to emerge during the hungriest time for slugs, crows, pigeons, rats and any other vermin that see fit to feast on your establishing crops.

Leaving off sowing to when conditions improve in January/February, or even in mid to late December in excellent conditions, will give crops a better chance to emerge and establish in the longer days and hopefully more 'growthy' conditions of the early spring, leaving the crops in a better position to fight off the vermin threat.

For crops that are well established past the three-leaf stage, take any opportunities to apply the herbicide. However, there is no panic as there are plenty of good herbicide products and mixes that work well with spring application and it's not worth destroying headlands and tramlines to get a herbicide on in wet conditions.

  • Slugs: Well-established cereal crops past the three-leaf stage with tramlines clearly visible are also at risk from slug attack. A full rate application of slug pellets is close in terms of cost to a fungicide application and has less of an environmental impact on wildlife.

If slug activity is noticed or a crop is at risk of attack by virtue of seedbed conditions, the date of sowing, or previous crop etc, the application of pellets is necessary. However, ensure that the application is warranted before embarking on a significant cost that will bear no return unless plant populations are under threat. Applications, if necessary, can also be made to headlands, poor areas, etc, without having to be applied across the full field.

  • Potatoes: Most of this year's potato crop has been harvested, yields are exceptionally high and quality -- in the main -- is particularly good. Market prices are bad, which is strange given that production within the EU is, at 56m tonnes, a record low for the 27 member states.

Germany, for example, has recorded an 18pc drop in production during the 2004-2009 average production levels, while French production is 10pc back on last year and 3pc down on the average ouput for the period from 2004 to 2009.

A lot of merchants are exporting produce to Europe and Third World countries, which is creating plenty of demand and momentum into an already buoyant home market, given the lack of imports.

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However, this momentum has not yet increased prices significantly and, until prices rise to at least the cost of production, which is still a long way off, it's a fruitless exercise for the long-term stability of the sector.

  • Oilseed Rape: Many oilseed rape crops are strong, with a well-developed canopy and good root structure established. Ground conditions are far too wet for applications at the moment but, should conditions improve, now is the time for the use of Propyzamide-based herbicides (eg, Kerb Flo) for broadleaved weed control, where they have not already been controlled.

The addition of a tebuconazole- or metconazole- (eg, Folicur, Caramba) based fungicide will hold strong canopies back a bit, aid control of light-leaf spot and phoma, and, as with all brassicas, the addition of boron is also beneficial to an established crop.

Dr Richard Hackett is an independent crop consultant and member of the ITCA. Email:

Irish Independent