Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Leaving some land fallow may be the smart move this year

Dressed for the weather at the road trotting races at Skibbereen Co Cork were Christine Murphy, Jennie Brickley and Caroline Collins. Photo: Denis Boyle.
Dressed for the weather at the road trotting races at Skibbereen Co Cork were Christine Murphy, Jennie Brickley and Caroline Collins. Photo: Denis Boyle.
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

The weather has remained mild and wet and the predicted cold snap never materialised with the result crops continue to grow, disease and aphids remain an issue and field work is virtually impossible.

Nevertheless, I believe the spring weather can only improve. Easter is particularly early this year and we've often heard it said that an early Easter often leads to an early spring so fingers crossed.

There is no doubt that with the amount of rain that has fallen it will be some time before field conditions dry up to allow field work.

A week of good drying weather can work wonders for most land. Regardless of this wishful hope, it is essential that you have your plans for the spring firmly fixed in your mind if not on paper.

There will be a big interest in spring beans this year with the returns achieved in 2015. On top of very good yields and relatively good prices the EU Premium top-up of €280 made this crop the most attractive crop for many for 2015.

There is likely to be a carryover of beans in store as demand for their usage is poor and this will likely affect prices in 2016.

The prices achieved in 2015 of €170 to €180 per tonne at 20pc moisture will be unlikely next autumn so it is important to secure your market now. If possible you should grow this crop under contract with a reputable merchant.

The EU premium payment will be payable again in 2016 however the value of the payment will depend on the hectares grown.

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There is €3m available. The 2015 sown area appears to have been about 10,700 hectares, which if increased again will reduce the per hectare payment. For 12,000 hectares the payment equates to €250 per hectare.

The crop has a six-month growing season so it is essential to sow early. Beans sown in mid-April will not be harvested before mid-October. Most years this is not the time of the year you want to be harvesting crops.

Many found this out to their cost in 2015 and, in addition to the late harvest, yield also suffered. Therefore, the earlier sown the better and as soon as ground conditions allow. Do not muck in.

Wheat also needs to be sown early. There is a carryover of winter wheat seed and while it is still okay to sow winter varieties, it is preferable at this stage to switch to spring varieties.

Winter varieties need a period of cold weather for vernalisation and from past experience sowing winter varieties after mid-February most years leads to failure of these crops to produce grain.

Disease levels

Crops generally, despite the weather, look extremely good at the moment however there are significant disease levels particularly in oil seed rape. Currently treatment is not recommended however should weather conditions pick up consideration should be given to treatments.

Similarly, because of the mild winter barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) may be a big issue this year and particularly for crops not already sprayed an aphicide should be considered.

While the wet weather may have restricted aphid activity it is likely that the aphid population is still relatively high and the danger remains.

Prospects for grain prices for next harvest have not improved and may even struggle to achieve the prices that were available in the harvest of 2015.

The low prices are a consequence of big yields and the oversupply of the last number of years has led to a high carryover of grain.

If there is another big yield in 2016 prices will suffer further. The currency exchange rate has greatly helped grain prices. Where would prices be only for the strength of the dollar? Should this change, the effect on the grain prices could be disastrous with potentially even lower prices.

It goes without saying that expensive conacre should be eliminated. If you require land to draw down entitlements you should consider leasing out these entitlements.

The cost of leasing will be less than the hit you may take on the production of the crops themselves. With the likely poor returns this year any land that is not fit to give a good return should be left fallow.

Do not worry about leaving land idle this year. In fact, this will be the smart move this season. Fallow land will still be eligible to draw down entitlements and will not run up additional expenses.

At this stage, growers should be more aware than ever that the price of grain fluctuates throughout the year.

Merchants provide a very good system advising farmers of prices on a regular basis. It is vital that farmers know their costs of production and preferably their cost to produce a tonne of grain. If you know this cost it is then easier to make a decision to sell when prices become available that leave a margin.

Selling grain off the combine at only one period of the year is a very bad idea.

Keeping an eye on price fluctuations during the year will be well worth while. Being aware of market drivers and watching price fluctuations will be the key to viability and maybe even your survival in 2016.

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

Indo Farming