Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

Avoid the temptation to plough before soil is dry

Gerry Bird

The recent good weather has led to a start in field activity, with some ploughing carried out on selected fields. Land has been drying out with good daytime temperatures and wind helping to improve ground conditions.

Careful consideration should be given before ploughing to ensure that soil conditions are suitable. The temptation to take out the plough when the first signs of spring appear can lead to problems later on if the soil is too wet. Ploughing wet soil will lead to smearing -- which seals the wetness in the sod -- and also compaction of the base of the furrow.

Soil structure damage caused by ploughing in poor conditions, mainly on clay/silty soil types, will impact on the performance of spring crops. Clay loams hold moisture. If they are ploughed when wet, significant smearing will occur. When good drying winds are present, the sod will then dry rock hard on the outside with minimal overall drying of the sod.

Soils that have high levels of magnesium are more prone to smearing and compaction. Those with high clay content benefit greatly from frost weathering and fracture and crack, which helps cultivations.

The benefits of break crops in the cereal rotation were evident last season and, as a result, the area of winter oilseed rape in my area has increased. The good bean yields last year will also encourage growers to plant the crop this season.

Last season the bean harvest was late, due to the extended growing period, and as a result earlier planting dates are planned to try to ensure earlier harvesting. On the heavier soils a target date of mid-February is planned, which will hopefully be harvested in early to mid-September.

It is important to have a good pH level (6.5-7) as the rhizobium bacteria that fix nitrogen for the bean plant require good soil pH levels to function efficiently. Weed control is also critical in optimising yield potential as beans are poor competitors.

Scutch should be eliminated prior to drilling, and glyphosate should be applied as soon as possible to green stubbles.

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Temperature levels will affect the speed of activity, but this can be influenced by the product formulation and the rate that it is applied.

Established crops of oilseed rape and cereals are benefiting from the mild weather. The contrast between crops this season and last year is remarkable. Oilseed rape crops are very forward, with pigeon damage at low levels, and noticeable levels of leaf spot and phoma evident.

Weed control is urgent on untreated crops as cleavers, groundsel, chickweed, wild oat and other broadleaf weeds are at advanced stages.

Winter wheat crops in the area vary from total ground cover with well-tillered crops, to struggling 2-3 leaf crops drilled in November into coarse seedbeds struggling against waterlogging, crows and slugs.

The benefits of early sowing of winter wheat on heavy soils is justified again this season. It allows for good rooting, reduced seed rate, early weed control and minimal slug activity and optimises yield potential.

Some crops will have to be resown, which presents difficult questions relating to the best method of redrilling from an economic and practical viewpoint.

The mild weather has also facilitated the development of foliar disease, with septoria obvious on many crops. I also noted mildew on advanced crops of Lion.

Weed control will be considered shortly with untreated crops competing with cleavers, speedwells, groundsel, chickweed, charlock and grass species.

Volunteer beans in distinct lines, due to ploughing, are competing with wheat in certain fields. The late harvest and pod loss resulted in beans in the stubble. The plough would concentrate the beans in the furrow and, when emerged in large numbers shading the wheat, early herbicide is advised.

Winter barley is very advanced, with crops at GS30 showing mildew, rhychosporium and netblotch are present.

I would anticipate eyespot being an issue due to the temperature, dense plant stands, weaker stems and the viable innoculum sources on stubble.

Winter oats are alive and well this season, and blowing in the wind.

Many growers have opted for true winter varieties after last season's experiences and many crops are at GS30-31, with mildew evident.

It's great to be out on the fields again and looking forward to a good season ahead.

Gerry Bird is crop consultant based in Co Meath. He is a member of the ITCA and can be contacted at

Indo Farming