Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Expect a burst of growth when the rain does arrive

Richard Hackett

Good weather is always good for morale. Even though it brings its own set of problems it's always a bit easier to bear up to problems when the sun is on your back.

Even when the problem of a lack of moisture is more severe than too much moisture, as has been the case for some growers.

Crops such as grass, vegetables and potatoes in lighter soils are under the most pressure.

The high temperatures are mineralising nutrients and when moisture does arrive, as it inevitably will, a huge burst of growth can be expected.

When this will happen is the issue. It might be too late for some crops but others will be able to compensate with late season growth bursts to catch up.

The recent weather shows how we always plan for last years problems. For example, the focus of land procurement this season was on getting light land that was trafficable in the wet.

Heavy soils, spurned after the recent experiences, are now showing their benefits in terms of water retention capacity.

Worn soils are really showing up as a poor investment. They don't perform in the wet as they haven't the 'body' to hold up crops or machinery in wet conditions, and in the dry they haven't the organic matter to retain moisture.

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They rarely add much to the bottom line.

What the dry weather will do is a lot of sub-soiling for free. Soils are getting an opportunity to properly dry out, leading to deep cracking, which should remediate some of the damage caused over the past few years.


That doesn't mean that planned drainage works should be put off, but that soils are getting the best solution possible to recent woes.

As the winter barley harvest starts, most of the spraying is already out of the way. Before the tsunami of the harvest takes over it is worth considering two tasks.

The first is a practical and physical one. Go through the machinery on the farm and compile a list of jobs that require attention either immediately or over the winter and begin planning for these works.

Then gather the spray and fertiliser invoices while they are fresh in the mind.

The thought of spending time in the office during the glorious weather seems a bit incongruous but it's probably too hot to work outside anyway.

Going through invoices now can highlight any errors which can be sorted out more easily now than in a few months' time.

Putting together the spray records for cross compliance and other QAS schemes is also an easier task when it's fresh in the mind.

While you are at it, pull together fertiliser invoices for nitrates purposes.

It might be useful in calculating the amount of organic manures you can accept onto the farm in the autumn, which can also be planned now before the pressure is on.

The process of putting together the invoices can lead to the second task at hand – planning and evaluation. Cost the crops that are out in the fields currently enjoying the sun.

This is your starting point for next year's plan. That will soon cloud over the sunniest day.

I think it's fair to say, particularly after the recent rollercoaster years, that the current system of crop production in Ireland is not sustainable.

Wildly fluctuating yields, wildly fluctuating prices, but stubbornly and consistently high production costs are not ingredients that make for a sustainable enterprise.


All predictions of future returns airily talk about 'increased volatility' in the marketplace. The presumption is that the highs of one year pay for the lows of another.

However, production costs of all crops are such that every year has to be a 'high' just to pay the bills.

Perhaps it's an argument for another day, but unless costs, in particular land, fertiliser and machinery costs, can be reduced by a really significant amount, the acreage of cereals grown in Ireland in 2020 will only be a small fraction of the acreage grown today.

How we go about this reduction in costs is the next discussion, but at this point, it's probably better to leave the office and enjoy what's left of the sunshine.

Dr Richard Hackett is an agricultural consultant and a member of ACA and ITCA.

Irish Independent

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