Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

Oat growers have harsh lessons to learn


Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

Growing oats successfully this year was easier said than done, especially with the very hard frosts last winter. Here's what happened on my clients' farms near Athy, in Co Kildare, and the lessons that can be learned.

Peter Carbery planted two fields last October. One 14ac field was sprayed with Bacara on October 30, with 2ac left unsprayed due to the tank size. The second 16ac field was not sprayed with Bacara until November 30.

The crop that was sprayed early with Bacara was a complete wipe out, so the decision to replant was easy. The remaining section of the field and the second plot, which was sprayed later, were reasonable.

Plant counts varied from 50-200 plants/m2 in the spring. Good plant stands (150 plus) occurred where the ground was well consolidated along wheelings. I estimated the average to be 100 and Peter decided to retain this crop. As he wished to maintain his oat acreage, it was decided to re-sow the first field with spring oats, also Barra. I argued that if we achieved 2.5t/ac from the winter oats, this would be equivalent to obtaining nearly three tonnes of spring oats due to the costs that had already been incurred.

The winter crop was managed carefully with ceraide, liquid phosphate and nitrogen dressings.

The input costs for the crops are outlined in table 1 (below). The additional input costs attributed to replanting the spring crop were made up of €21 for the original seed, €9 for Bacara plus an aphicide, and an estimated €15/ac for work done to establish the spring crop. This consisted of grubbing and rolling.

The winter crop yielded slightly more than 3t/ac at 55kph and a price of €170/t, while the spring crop yielded 2.5t/ac at 53kph.

While Peter will continue to grow winter oats as a break crop for his wheat, he won't be growing spring oats again any time soon. Raymond Pelin sowed 34ac of winter oats in one plot last year.

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Half the field was rolled late after emergence. However, as the weather and soil conditions at the time were poor, it was decided not to roll the rest.

The frost kill on the area of the crop that wasn't rolled was severe and this was planted with spring oilseed rape. The remainder that was rolled, albeit in bad conditions, survived reasonably well with a plant stand in April of 80-180 plants/m2, which averaged at 100 plants/m2.

The winter oats crop yielded 3t/ac at 53kph and was sold for €170/t. The spring rape (variety Delight) yielded 1.5t/ac and was sold for €372/t. The contrasting margins will force Raymond to consider more OSR in his rotation in the future (see table 2 (below).

Jonathon Pelin had 6ha of winter oats, which was rolled after sowing. It had a variable plant stand but averaged about 90 plants/m2 in April. However, it was considered reasonable enough to retain. It yielded 2.2t/ac at 53kph bushel weight and achieved a price of €170/t. This crop made a loss of €32/ac with similar costs to above. In hindsight, this crop should have been re-sown in the spring.

Lessons learned from growing winter oats this year include:

•If sowing spring oats in the winter, early sowing and a fine, firm seed bed is essential. The firmness of the seed bed will reduce frost heave later in the season. Good establishment before the onset of winter will also eliminate frost heave.

Despite advice to the contrary, rolling in less than ideal conditions to consolidate seed beds is advisable, particularly if the crop was sown late. Growers should be wary of extremely early sowing in September, since if the crop becomes too forward, it can be prone to frost damage to the advanced head if there are April frosts.

•Pre-emergent herbicides should not be applied to the young crop until it becomes frost hardy or tolerant of chemicals. A minimum of eight weeks should elapse between both emergence of the crop and the application of the herbicide Bacara. Again this will vary with the year and location.

•If persisting with spring oats in the winter, choose your warmest site.

•True winter oat varieties, such as Mascani, had disappointing yields and quality this year so spring oats will continue to be grown. Husky is the most winter hardy and highest yielder of the varieties available. However, for the quality grain market, Barra continues to perform best.

•A minimum of 100 plants/m2 is a good cut-off point. However, I would be slow to leave crops, even with reasonable plant stands, if there are significant areas with little or no plants.

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

Indo Farming