Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Healthy cereal prices encouraging

PJ Phelan

The cereal harvest is now almost completed. Prices of €140 for green barley and €150+ for wheat are available and are providing a good margin on most farms. Straw remains scarce and continues to command prices of at least 25pc more than last year. Despite the good prices, for many it will simply enable outstanding merchant accounts to be cleared.

The benefits of organic manures, good rotations and soil sampling are well known. Two other areas that we need to assess are potential benefits from managing soils and combine drilling of fertiliser and seed.

Tillage machinery has got bigger and heavier, which puts greater pressure on the soil. You need to ensure that where damage has been done that measures are put in place to rectify it.

Soil moistures are relatively low at the moment so it is an ideal opportunity to carry out assessments of soil compaction. The first step is to dig holes in representative areas of fields to a depth of 1-2m. The vertical face of the hole will reveal the soil profile with a range of colours from the topsoil down to the subsoil. Rooting depth can be easily assessed by close examination. Roots should be able to penetrate down to a depth of up to 1m. Shallow rooting will generally indicate poor drainage or compaction. Start removing soil from the face of the profile near the surface and working down using a knife with a flexible blade. On many tillage soils compaction is found at a depth of 20--40cm. Depending on what is found, a programme should be put in place to address the issues. This may or may not include sub-soiling. Sub-soiling is not the answer in many cases and should never be undertaken without carrying out a comprehensive assessment to determine the nature and depth of compaction.

Crop share agreements operate as a partnership between land owners and tillage farmers. Greater interest has been shown since 2007 by larger farmers who specialise in finishing cattle and want to minimise feed volatility. Interest is also increasing on lower-stocked farms where there is an opportunity to maintain existing stock numbers and produce grain at minimal costs.

The agreements are generally 50:50 for input costs and output, and operate as follows:

1) The land owner supplies the land and the tillage farmer supplies all machinery and labour requirements.

2) Input costs are shared, normally by way of a joint account with a local merchant, and are paid at harvest by way of grain delivery.

Also Read

3) The balance of the grain after meeting input costs is shared equally by both partners. In most cases the grain is sold at harvest but in others the grain is stored for an agreed fee until such time as it is required for sale or use.

4) Straw ownership is by prior agreement and is the main mechanism to allow for differing land qualities:

  • Baled by the tillage farmer and bales divided equally
  • Straw area divided equally and baled by the tillage farmer with the landowner paying for his share of the bales.
  • Straw retained by the tillage farmer.

This week's weather forecast and present soil conditions indicate ideal conditions for sowing oilseed rape. Last week a large merchant guaranteed a minimum of €300/t or the market price if higher. This follows another large merchant's offer of a contract price of €340/t which is all very encouraging. The Department of Agriculture's Winter Oilseed Rape Varieties Recommended List is available now. The department's advice is that "growers should give preference to the varieties listed unless there is compelling evidence that other varieties are more suited to their specific conditions". All sowing should be completed by mid-September. In most situations seeding rate should be calculated to provide 60 seeds/m2. Min till is a suitable option on many soils.

The regulations have a number of requirements in relation to ploughing and the use of herbicides. You are required to establish green cover from a sown crop if you have ploughed arable land from July 1 to January 15 within six weeks of ploughing. In the case of ploughing grassland, the green cover must be established by November 1. Grassland should not be ploughed from October 16 to November 30. Where non-selective herbicides such as glyphosate are used, either pre or post-harvest, you must establish a green cover either from a sown crop or from natural regeneration. Where stubbles are particularly clean and on drier soils, the option of sowing a crop such as mustard should be considered.

  • PJ Phelan is an agricultural consultant in north Tipperary,

Irish Independent