Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Beware of those fields fit only for snipe

Richard Hackett

The autumn has so far proved to be very amenable to both crops and growers alike. High temperatures, dry conditions and sunny weather have resulted in near perfect conditions to get the remainder of this year's crops out of the fields and next year's crops in.

The potato harvest, in particular, is progressing well, but the high temperatures in the past few weeks have resulted in two separate problems. The first is getting sufficient skin set. But warm temperatures are also causing some difficulty in getting optimal storage conditions.

Nevertheless, good yields of good-quality crops are heading for the store and, given recent experiences, good harvesting opportunities should not be squandered. There has been a move towards harvesting directly into storage boxes in the field, but this can be a high risk strategy. The reason is the cart elevator cannot fit into a box on a trailer moving independently of the harvester, so potatoes drop at least the height of the box to begin filling. This is especially risky given the high dry matter and poor skin set that is being found in some crops.

Ironically, this move to direct filling of boxes is mainly done to prevent damage because once the potatoes are in the storage box, they can be moved around in the box without incurring any damage until graded out for sale. However, careful loading of a bulk trailer, followed by careful setting of a well-designed grader at the store will probably result in less damage than incurring a 2m drop to fill the bottom of every box. Unfortunately, the latter is often the case.

The market for potatoes is difficult, but this appears to be caused internally because there is only a negligible amount of imports coming in at the moment and the prospects for imports later in the year and into next year look unlikely. This is little comfort, however, for the growers currently out in the market requiring turnover after last season's difficulties.

Winter cereals

All the signs are pointing towards a big increase in winter cereal acreage but it can be easy at this point to get carried away. With the programmed acreage sown in great conditions, the weather is still good and optimism is still in the grain market. The urge to take a bit of extra land, or sow that field you swore was only fit for snipe six weeks ago, can be expected. However, get the planned acreage in and established and remind yourself of the 2008 and 2009 grain harvest rather than this year's before significantly increasing acreage.

For land that has yet to be sown with winter wheat, the seed rate is still best kept low at around 150kg/ha (9-10st/ac) into good sowing conditions, increasing as ground conditions deteriorate.

Also Read

Some land is ploughing up wet and compacted and could do with a few days drying before sowing -- but watch the forecast for good drying conditions before deciding on whether the risk is worth it.

Maintain the focus on high-yield potential sites and get crops in as soon as possible after maize or potatoes. Select varieties that are on the Department of Agriculture recommended list. If you have to use varieties that are not on the list, ensure that you are given some idea of their strengths and weaknesses. There is no point looking for that information next July when the crop is stitched to the ground.

Many crops of winter cereals are emerging or are well emerged and, given the high temperatures, the risk of BYDV and aphid attack is significant. With this kind of pressure, two applications of insecticide will probably be required over the autumn period. Aim to apply a contact aphicide once tramlines become clearly visible, with a second application along with the herbicide in a few weeks time.

Dr Richard Hackett is an independent crop consultant and member of the Irish Tillage Consultants Association

Irish Independent