Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Learning from 2013, preparing for 2014

Richard Hackett

With the harvest almost wrapped up, thoughts and actions turn to the next cropping year and the best way to commence for next year is in the office designing a good plan.

Messages can be learnt from last year, but not too many. Be careful not to plan just for last year's problems as, in all likelihood, next year will be a whole lot different. Although, hopefully not too different as warm sunny weather is great to do any kind of work in.

What lessons can we learn from the year, and more importantly what lessons can we ignore? Spring barley, in general, performed exceptionally well in heavy land this year. Don't take that as a new paradigm, however. Winter sowing is generally more successful than spring sowing in heavy land. Planning to leave a significant proportion of heavy land aside for spring sowing on the basis of yields of spring barley achieved this year could be a very dangerous tactic.

Another aspect this year was the lack of disease, particularly septoria, in winter wheat. Again, don't take this as a new departure. Septoria control is still the Achilles' heel of wheat production and we are still sorely exposed on this front.

Tread very carefully with early sowing of wheat. Septoria and yellow rust can be practically uncontrollable in a mild, humid spring and summer for a thick early sown crop.

Most fields with poor crops that were re-sown performed extremely well this year. Poor crops coming out of winter that get any mildness in the spring often recover quickly and yield to potential. This year, weak crops coming out of the winter got no kindness when they needed it and, when the crops were pulled out, the newly emerged crops got the heat and weather and performed very well.

This does not always happen. Sometimes re-sown crops can perform a lot worse than if the poorer crop was retained, with the added expense of the extra seed and sowing costs to carry. In short, don't automatically pull out a weak crop next spring without first giving it a chance

Lessons we can take from the year gone by are that wheat can be a very profitable crop in good soils, with good soil fertility, in a good rotation slot and with good management. For situations other than this, wheat just carries too much cost and will not perform to potential. This fact should be uppermost in your mind when planning a cropping programme. Good crop rotations are a vital part of successful crop production.

Also Read

Another lesson we can learn is that the current stock of winter barley varieties are consistent performers and acreage of this crop will again increase substantially to reflect this. There is a niggling fear that depending too much on winter barley nationally, or on an individual farm, is not necessarily a good thing.

Backing one horse is rarely a good sustainable option.

With more consistent production costs, earlier harvest and ability to overcome impediments, it's hard to argue against the crop. Like wheat, tread cautiously before mid-October sowing in warm fertile soils. Early sown crops of barley look very well over winter but a 'spring crop of silage' is not the aim; keeping it standing is.

The main lesson that was again evident this year is that poor soil fertility will not pay. No matter what the plant population is or what the weather is during grain fill, crops will not yield and will die in debt if soil pH or soil potassium or soil phosphorus levels are below optimum. Get the soil fertility right if you are going to continue crop production. Otherwise you will not be in production for very long.


Most potato crops are approaching desiccation stage for harvesting. Shorter days and lower temperatures dictate that bulking up is much lower than a few weeks ago. So what you have at present is what you are going to harvest.

The good weather and dry conditions are not guaranteed to continue, so take what you have and start planning for harvest.

The dry year has impacted on the crop, and yields will be affected. Many crops are showing signs of common scab and growth cracks, affecting saleable yield. However, dry matters are very high.

What this means is that per kg of potatoes, there is significantly more food value from high dry matter than lower dry matter for the consumer. The question is how to get this extra value back to the producer who is producing these higher food value potatoes.

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

Irish Independent