Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Only time will tell the damage done

Michael Hennessy

With the cold weather behind us for now, many are anxious to survey the damage if any.

Obvious areas such as crop survival and damage to water pipes will be first on the list. Other areas where people will be looking towards is the sprayer and other equipment such as diesel pumps and other pumps which may have been damaged.

At Oak Park we are fortunate to host an official Met Eireann weather station. The data from the station over the past number of weeks makes for interesting reading. The station accurately records minimum and mean air temperatures (taken at 1.2 meters) as well as soil temperature down to 10, 20 and 30cm (4, 8 and 12 inches) among others. The lowest air temperature occurred on the night of January 7 with a minimum air temperature of -12.1C.

Over the same period, the temperatures at 10cm slipped to a low of -0.1C. Interestingly, temperatures at 20 and 30cm were just marginally above freezing (0.6C) during this period. Snow cover during the very coldest days (-12C) insulated the ground and probably prevented the ground from freezing further.

Damage to crops left in the ground such as potatoes, vegetable crops and fodder beet is almost guaranteed. Most of the potatoes left in the ground are lost and it is a similar story with many vegetable crops. Fodder beet has all but lost its leaves and in many cases the tops of the beet were frozen and are likely to deteriorate in the milder weather. Pulling these crops may prove to be impossible.

Damage to crops may only become apparent this week as temperatures warm up and natural degeneration to damaged material can begin. Frost damage to Barra oats and other varieties have occurred at much higher temperatures than the ones we experienced a couple of weeks ago but in general, damage tended to happen later in the season and on crops a little more advanced.


Only time will tell what damage is out there. Learning lessons from other years it's clear damage can be more pronounced, not only in some areas more than others, but also in some fields more than others within that area. Factors such as time of sowing, elevation of the field, nutritional stress on the crop, type of sowing method and also crop-growth stage can all have a bearing on the severity of damage.

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On close examination of very forward plants (volunteer Barra from harvest 2009) in Oak Park late last week (the thaw was just complete, however the lake beside the field was still frozen) it was obvious some damage was inflicted as thawing leaves were withering away. This damage did not appear to be uniform across the plants although most of the leaves are now turning a very greeny white colour and a few of the leaves seem to be escaping without the entire leaf being damaged. However, it was more difficult to ascertain at this stage what damage might be inflicted to the growing point. Similarly, some damage was evident to leaves on a crop of Barra sown in mid October. In general, though, the crop appeared to be standing up quite well. I will track the progress of this crop through the spring in this article.

Sprayers were very susceptible to damage over the frosty period. Most growers would have used some antifreeze to protect the pump and lines but as often the case lines through the sprayer can get missed and if so it will have been damaged. Over the next couple of weeks, while ground is drying out, all sprayers should be taken out and checked for their complete functionality. The chances are that parts will have to be ordered and replaced.

Remember the sprayer may be used for some stubble burn-off within the month so it's important this piece of equipment is in good working order.

The next month or so the tillage team in Teagasc are holding seminars through the country. These seminars will address some of the critical areas such as variety selection, economics of production, organic matter levels in the soil and also discuss the share farming concept with growers. This week seminars will be held tonight in Bel-Air Hotel Ashford, tomorrow night in the Silver Springs Hotel, Cork and on Thursday night in Innishannon House, Cork.

The seminars start at 8pm and all are welcome.

Irish Independent