Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

Every tractor in the northeast out in fields as weather finally comes good

Dr Richard Hackett

The starter gun has been shot and it seems that every tractor in the northeast has been directed towards stubble fields to get the work completed that has been on the to-do list since last September.

However, remember that while the early bird gets the worm, the second mouse gets the cheese.

Some fields are still wet and most fields have wet spots still prevalent so if land is not fit to work, don't work it.

The weather forecast is good and most crops will allow for time to dry out. Ploughland being worked is coming up shiny, so make sure it doesn't dry out too much in the furrow, or it will be very difficult to turn into a seedbed later.

Wait for a few days post ploughing to press, roll or cultivate, and wait a few more before sowing. Again, time, weather and crops seem to be on our side.

Winter wheat seed should be left in the bag at this point. If it can't be returned, put the seed away in a dry sealed shed, put plenty of rodenticide around it and monitor for the next seven months.

If stored well, it should be OK until next season. A germination test next autumn will determine how effective the storage was.

Spring wheat and spring oats are first up for the sower, while preparation for spring barley can begin soon.

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For those being newly reacquainted with the skills of spring cropping, seedbed is numbers one, two and three in order of importance.

'Well sown is half grown' should be written on a sign and put in the tractor.

If you think it might do with another run of the harrow, it does, and probably another.

With the high inputs costs and low output that these spring crops have been saddled with from the starting point, whatever you sow, make sure it's done right.

If possible, combine drill in NPK fertiliser, but if not possible, broadcast on the ploughed land and cultivate it in.

Regarding the input/output squeeze of spring cropping, it might be tempting to reduce or omit granular P and K applications.

Where organic manures are available, they will meet requirements for the crop. But otherwise, do not be tempted on land you will have next year to leave out P or K unless they are at Index 4 from a recent soil test.

While omitting P and K might not greatly affect output in a fertile soil this year, depletion of reserves will lead to a hugely expensive problem being stored up for the future.

Where soil reserves are already low, reducing P and K, as well an annihilating soil reserves, will impede growth severely and no amount of extra nitrogen, liquid feeds or even P and K applications later in the season will overcome this impediment from early on.

A crop must stand on its own feet and if it can't support the cost of the off-take of P and K at least, let the first loss be the worst loss and leave the land idle.

Fields that have developed ponds and wet areas might need drainage work carried out.

Perhaps the best solution in these fields is to decide now to leave them out of production altogether this year and carry out drainage work later in the summer when conditions should be at their best for major works and the pressure is off in terms of field work.


There is enough pressure to get work done without trying to get drainage work carried out in the short term.

One year's lost production in wet fields will be quickly made up in newly dried out land.

For the winter crops coming out of the winter getting accustomed to a new world of dry feet and bright days, a bit of tender love and care is required.

Oilseed rape will need a few applications of a small amount of nitrogen to encourage new leaf growth before it can take up larger amounts of fertiliser later on.

At this point, it is critical that pigeons are kept off this new growth so monitor crops carefully.

For well established wheat and barley crops, there is still time to apply a DFF/IPU herbicide mix if labels allow but this is a priority to get done before growth commences. Fertiliser on these crops can wait for a while yet.

For crops coming out of the intensive care ward, a small amount of nitrogen will encourage growth.

As soon as these crops begin to grow, a small amount of cycocel to encourage tillering and some liquid feed with available nitrogen and phosphorus/phosphite might help nurse these back to health.

Leave out a herbicide on these crops until later in the season.

Dr Richard Hackett is a crop consultant and member of the ACA and ITCA email:

Irish Independent