Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Harvest profits in danger due to wet weather, poor quality and high costs

Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

ThIS year's harvest is struggling to get going. I cannot recall any previous season in which winter barley had not been harvested by August 1. Early indicators are not particularly good, and certainly the yields and quality of 2011 will not be reached this year.

It is likely that the crops already harvested had higher disease levels, especially of barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV).

Most of the crops harvested so far are six-row varieties.

Quality is also poor, with bushel weights of 55-57kph for six-row. The two-row harvested so far is higher at 63-64kph.

Yield indications are from 2.1-3t/ac, with occasional crops up to 3.4t/ac. I would expect yields to improve.

Ironically, my main worry for winter barley yields is that most crops are still standing straight. Heavy heads should mean lots of lodging at this stage. On a positive note, prices are still good despite some reductions last week.

Merchants have yet to indicate their likely harvest price, but I would expect that this will be a good bit higher than the 2011 offer of €155/t at 20pc moisture. The potential malting barley price looks like it could be more than €225/t at 20pc.

With prices of up to €208 for wheat and barley over the past few weeks, many growers may regret having pre-sold any of their harvest.

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This is always a difficult one to get right but we cannot go back to the old way of only trading grain at harvest time. It is my opinion that selling a quantity of grain a few times during the season spreads the risk on prices and will lead to a higher average price over a number of years. More expertise needs to be developed by growers in this area and if there is one lesson to be learned from this year, it is that anyone forward selling must produce their own contract with their own terms and conditions and get it signed by the buyer. Basic details of price, quality and delivery times are standard in contracts, but how many growers specify payment within seven days or handling and storage charges after a certain date? An option on quantities could also be included. For example, tonnes sold can vary by about 10pc.

Merchant buyers are more experienced at this. They are generally the ones that write the contracts and are quick to point to the terms and conditions when it suits them.

But I still strongly recommend that all contracts are honoured. Your good name in this area is paramount to future dealings and there will be many more opportunities to regain the perceived losses. Needless to say, any grain delivered which exceeds the contract tonnage can be renegotiated.

The poor weather of the last four to six weeks has led to major problems with blind grains and fusarium in wheat and barley.

Wheat crops have remained relatively free of septoria but all the ear diseases are now coming into their own. It is likely that fusarium will be the most noticeable and may produce the greatest yield losses. Blind grains, particularly in spring barley, look particularly bad this year, but may not turn out to be too terrible if weather conditions improve.

Some grains will increase in size due to the available empty space beside them. There is no benefit at this stage in applying fungicides.

The extended flowering period on winter oil-seed rape has led to problems identifying the correct desiccation stage for the crop.

Many crops were only desiccated in the past two weeks and will not be ready for harvest for a further week to 10 days.

It is likely that there will be some loss of seed from these crops as some of the top pods will be overripe and will split. There is a high level of alternaria and light leaf spot evident in many crops, which is also leading to pod-shatter, especially during desiccation. Again, prices for the crop are the one high spot with more than €460/t (dried to 9pc) still available.

This may be the year to consider harvesting rape at slightly higher moisture levels.

This will reduce the incidence of pod-shatter and seed loss but will also reduce the price. Price reduction methods for higher moisture rape vary between merchants, so it is important to agree these reductions in advance of delivery.

Generally, there is a charge of €5-8 per percentage point, with some merchants also charging an initial drying charge.

With prices above €400/t, a 5pc moisture penalty of €25-40 may be a better option when compared to greater seed loss.

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

Indo Farming