Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

May will be the month to make or break your year

Winter barley being harvested. Photo: O'Gorman Photography.
Winter barley being harvested. Photo: O'Gorman Photography.

Richard Hackett

For agricultural consultants, May is the month that the whole year revolves around for many different reasons. For starter, the closing date of the Single Payment Scheme (SPY) and related schemes is slap bang in the middle of the month.

Despite our best efforts, the income derived from completion of this form decides the profitability of the majority of farms. It is crucial therefore that this form is completed accurately and in a timely fashion.

The SPS form is also the basis of all communications a farm will have with the relevant authorities for the remainder of the year so its importance is not merely for the draw-down of payments.

Most professions have a busy period at some stage every year, but at least agricultural consultants have the advantage that the busiest time of year coincides with longer days and warmer temperatures.

As well as the paperwork, May is one of very few months that can determine the output of a farm for the whole year. It is often said that if you have to sell a farm, sell it in May, as it's the time of the year when land looks its best.

Soil temperatures are increasing and soil moisture levels are still sufficient to meet requirements.

Growth rates are therefore at an optimum in May and all temperate crops have evolved to maximised the effect from high growth rates in May and the early summer period.

It's no coincidence that silage cuts are timed to take maximum benefit from this growth period.

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Bulking up

Winter cereals are in the main bulking up phase, and all spring crops are emerging to take advantage of the optimum growing conditions that exist at this time of the year.

The benefit from a good May is more apparent in its absence in years when temperatures or moisture levels fail to meet expectations.

It was only the excellent conditions that we experienced all summer last year that made up for May.

This particular May appears to be very compliant. Nature is showing off the best that she can give with high soil temperatures, good sunlight levels, and plenty (if not too much) of soil moisture to give excellent growth rates.

Spring crops are bursting at the seams, with quick and even emergence the norm. But good conditions also allow for good growth rates of weeds and aphid.

Winter cereals look to have excellent potential. Winter barley inputs are nearly finalised, with growth regulation completed, disease programmes ongoing and nutrients applied at this stage. A final fungicide at ear emergence in a week or so and the gate can be closed.

Winter wheat is also bulking up well, with the final nitrogen application approaching and growth regulation nearly completed.

As always, there is a fly in the ointment. Septoria is also enjoying the weather conditions and crops are getting dirty in some instances.

The fungicide application at the time of flag leaf emergence is the most important spray.

This date is fast approaching, and warrants a robust fungicide mix of triazoles at high rates, an SDHI and chloro-thalonil.

The actual product used will depend on availability in some cases, but more importantly whatever products were used in the previous application.

Using different fungicide groupings, where available, at each application, combined with tank mixing fungicide families is the basis of good resistance management.

I don't completely subscribe to the theory that septoria control is doomed in the medium term and the only answer is to pile on ever more fungicide.

We have four fungicide families and groups within these families that are widely available to us.

Our role is to use these groups responsibly and effectively to maintain efficacy against such an able adversary as septoria.

  • Dr Richard Hackett is an agricultural consultant and is a member of the ITCA and ACA

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