Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Bumper yields of winter wheat and spring crops

The turning of the combine for the winter barley seems a long time ago
The turning of the combine for the winter barley seems a long time ago

Richard Hackett

It is turning out to be a long drawn out harvest, where the initial excitement of the first turning of the combine thresher in the winter barley seems such a long time ago.

There are plenty of crops yet to be harvested but most crops are worth waiting for. Winter wheat crops are yielding very well, and even spring crops which had missed out on a complete month's growth are returning yields way above initial expectations.

Crops that have yet to see the harvest, such as fodder beet, potatoes, and beans are also looking very promising.

Temperate crops require bright cool conditions to maximise growth and given the summer we have endured, and the good crops in evidence, could it possibly said that the climate in Ireland is normally too warm to grow good crops?

It's getting past time for oilseed rape to be sown. All crops should be in the ground in the next week at the latest. It's hard to gauge interest in this crop.

Yields this year have been good, and prices have been very good, but memories of the previous two years are still a bit raw to see a huge increase in acreage. Good forward prices are available for next year and for fields that are empty, it's still worth considering.

If sowing now, use hybrid varieties and increase seed rate. Ploughing and conventional sowing is the preferred method of establishment and pest control is the priority.

One area of maintenance that must be tackled is the two metre buffer along watercourses. Most of these are a mess and require attention to avoid scrub and noxious weed encroachment.

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Two problems have arisen. The first is where none or not enough buffer has been left around watercourses, which in fairness is the minority of situations.


The second is the more frequent one, where too much buffer area has been taken out. This is where watercourses were misidentified and also where too much land was taken out and buffer areas are now 3 and 4 metres out from the top of the bank.

This might be due to a 'just in case' attitude, poor driving skills or misinterpreting the rules.

Dig out the EFA maps sent out last May. Blue lines require buffers, other boundaries do not.

The EFA maps are not 100pc consistent with blue lines on the OSI maps but are the best available information if you haven't EFA maps for new land.

The next thing to do is walk the fields with a measuring tape or a 2m stick. The regulations require that no crop is cultivated within 2m from the edge of the top of the bank.

This is not 2m from the water's edge, or 2m from the point where crop was cultivated last year, or 2m from the hedgerow.

Make sure you are measuring from the correct starting point. Where someone else is doing the ploughing, cut a few sticks and place them in the ground at the correct distance to guide them.

Where the buffer is present and is now a mess of weeds, one potential remedy is to grass it down. The grass will smother out weeds and will allow for normal grass cutting machinery such as a mower or topper to control growth rather than relying on a hedge cutter every year.

Do not spray glyphosate around these areas. This will only encourage more noxious weeds to proliferate and could also destabilise banks with bare soil eroding overwinter.

There is the potential in some situations to sow 3m of grass around the field as a buffer, which will allow cutting during the year with a front mounted mower or using a small tractor and saving silage or hay from this area.

While 3m of land is now taken away from the field, it's now 3m of productive land rather than 2m of non-productive land. Making maximum use of a scarce resource such as land is always a good thing.

Dr Richard Hackett is an agronomist based in North County Dublin and is a member of the ITCA and ACA.


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