Our first task must be to address soil compaction
In my 34 years of walking, monitoring and managing tillage crops, I think it is fair to say that I have never come across two back-to-back seasons that have been such a contrast in terms of crop growth and income returns as 2012 and 2013.
The 2012 harvest will long be remembered for many reasons but principally because of the continuous and enormous quantities of rain that fell throughout the growing season, especially during the summer. This even extended into the start of the 2013 sowing season and significantly reduced the area planted to winter cereals.
In contrast, the 2013 harvest will be remembered for a growing season marked by a prolonged and extremely cold spell in early spring and a particularly dry and very high temperature summer, a period in June and July which was particularly relevant to grain fill.
The 2012 harvest produced poor yields and poor quality, while the 2013 harvest produced reasonable, though variable, yields but excellent quality.
From an income point of view, prices for the 2012 harvest were at a record high, with much forward selling failing to capitalise on the high prices. The 2013 harvest has seen very disappointing prices and little or no forward selling. A difference of €60/t between the two harvests is evident, despite the more superior quality of the 2013 crops.
Ireland is perceived to have the most suitable climate, despite generally poor summers, for cereals. Good, dry summers add to yields. The great summers of 1984 and 1995, which had outstanding yields, bear this out.
In 2013, the good summer appears to have helped yields despite what we expected from the late and cold start to the season. Obviously, a long, dry, warm grain-filling period is essential for good yields and once the moisture reserves are sufficient, as was noticeable again in 2013 in heavier ground, yields will benefit. Lighter, drier and sandier soils obviously suffer most in the dry summers due mainly to the poor moisture retentive properties of these soils.
What can we learn from our experience of the last two years? There is no doubt that the man above dictates, however, we should try to stack the cards more in our own favour.