Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

First winter barley yields are far from encouraging

It is probably a little early to judge the winter barley harvest, however from looking at crops over the last week it would appear that grain fill is certainly not as good as it was in 2015
It is probably a little early to judge the winter barley harvest, however from looking at crops over the last week it would appear that grain fill is certainly not as good as it was in 2015

The winter barley harvest started last week in the south but stalled again due to poor weather. This week should see some progress made. The early reports so far are not encouraging.

Typically, early harvested crops tend to be the poorer yielders for a variety of reasons. The crops that had poorer disease control or that had suffered most from barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) or take-all are the ones that will ripen first and will have lower yields.

There are reports of yields of 3 to 4.1 tonnes per acre with bushel weights from 54 to 63 KPH. The very low bushel weights are generally the six row varieties. Some of these reports are from growers who achieved 5 tonnes in 2015.

It is probably a little early to judge the winter barley harvest, however from looking at crops over the last week it would appear that grain fill is certainly not as good as it was in 2015.

This does not auger well for yields and, as is widely reported, prices will be well back on 2015 prices which were very poor in themselves. All indications are that the likely price for green barley this harvest will struggle to reach €130 per tonne. The 2015 equivalent was between €135 and €140.

The high yields of 2015 gave some comfort to many growers for the low prices, however if yields and prices are low this year it will leave the break-even point difficult to achieve even on owned land.

Hopefully, as the harvest progresses, the later crops will be better. Many crops were only desiccated last week and it will be another week before these crops are ready for harvest. During inspections last week I noticed many crops were breaking down, particularly Quadra and the harvest of these crops may have to be earlier to avoid excessive losses.

Many winter oil seed rape crops were desiccated last week. The balance will be desiccated this week. Crops should be desiccated when the seeds in the pods in middle third of the main raceme are turning brown. It is still difficult to determine the value for using a pod sealant. In theory this should be applied 10 days before desiccation to seal the pods and follow this with the desiccant a week to 10 days later.

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As it is difficult enough to get growers to enter crops once at this time of the year very few would be prepared to make two passes through this crop therefore generally the pod sealant is combined with the desiccant.

When the crop is ready for harvest, and if winds are strong, a pod sealant can give a result, however it is not easy to predict likely harvest weather and particularly winds. Many growers prefer some level of security and therefore include the pod sealant with the desiccant. This does give some piece of mind, especially if large acreages are involved.

Over the last two weeks many of the seed and chemical companies held open days to display and discuss crop trials and demonstrations carried out this year.

This is always a great opportunity to see possible new varieties and new chemicals which may be available next year or at a later stage.

These days, and particularly the presentations and discussions, permit us all to compare crops on our own farms and the various management and spray programmes used during the season and, invariably encourages everyone to try something different next year.

What was obvious this year was that disease pressure was relatively low with the result that some treatments that might not normally maintain clean crops were showing relatively good results and, while there is still time for disease to affect some crops, the value of chemicals and particularly timing of applications was informative.

The value of fungicides is well accepted at this stage, however, considering the current debate regarding glyphosate, it is important that efforts are made and results demonstrated to reduce the chemical load on all crops.

Many of the trials now attempt to show the value of the various different fungicides applied at different stages.

For example, if SDHIs are only cleared for single use in the season the timing of this one application for maximum benefit takes on new importance.

Some of the trials indicated that some SDHIs used at the T1 stage might be the preferred option, while other trials indicated that the application at T2 stage might be the preferred option.

The preferred option will not be clear until the yield results are known and it may take a number of seasons to definitively make conclusions in this regard.

Nonetheless this shows the importance of independent robust research on all varieties and chemicals.

Some winter oats will be ready for desiccation this week while winter wheat crops will be a little later. Depending on your market for oats eg seed, gluten free, dessication may not be allowed.

You should check with your purchaser if in doubt. If desiccation is permissible it may only be required in some plots or some areas for example, headlands or to even up ripening.

It is possible that this may be the last year that glyphosate desiccation of cereal crops will be allowed so experimenting this year without desiccation may answer some of your questions for next year.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA

Indo Farming