Farming

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Plan your remedial work to essential drainage ditches now

We've reached the time of year when field work should be finished and the weather conditions only confirm this. Winter barley is establishing well and healthy tramlines are appearing in fields.

Winter wheat in general appears to be emerging very slowly but even enough. Provided they are monitored and protected from pest attack, these crops have all winter to emerge and establish.

In the northeast, there are lots of fields that would normally be in winter cereals still in stubble, or in some instances ploughed and awaiting sowing.

There will still be opportunities to sow winter cereals in the latter half of December and into January and February, provided conditions improve.

These opportunities should be taken, as seed availability for spring cereals will be limited. Also, fields normally used for winter cereals are often chosen for a good reason, as they don't traditionally perform well with spring cereals.

Another common sight in fields are wet patches and wet areas that appeared in the mid-summer and are still present.

The realisation is dawning that fields often regarded as 'good fields' are that way because of the hard graft of those who went before us.

Those deep ditches that are such a nuisance when moving our wide combines from field to field were probably dug by hand and dug for good reason.

These have been ignored over the past 20 years and might be neglected and in need of some work at this stage.

Winter cereal production does not lend itself to major land rejuvenation, given the tight window from harvest to sowing.

Disaster

In the spirit of 'never let a good disaster go to waste' perhaps this is the ideal opportunity to carry out some remedial work on these fields before they are sown in the spring next year.

Examination when they are at their wettest, in order to put a plan in place when they dry out in the spring, is the best way to address these wet areas.

Initially, walk the fields and establish the condition of the open drains and exit points of land drains.

A cleaning of the existing drains and alleviation of the most apparent wet spots will more than likely solve a lot of problems.

Failing this, the next job is to design a drainage plan for the field. Expertise in this area is sorely lacking. In times gone by, the Department of Agriculture had a drainage section and the people who worked in this area were renowned for their expertise helping to draw up drainage plans.

Most of us advisers nowadays were trained in the black art of wetland creation more than land drainage, a situation that will have to change.

The most proficient people in this area are often the drainage contractors and they should be brought on board at an early stage if major surgery is required.

Bear in mind Environmental Impact assessment and National Park and Wildlife requirements before embarking on land improvements.

Getting back to the present difficulties in the field, the potato harvest and ongoing vegetable harvests are the only areas where field activity is continuing, if at all possible.

These sectors have endured all kinds of difficulties over the past few years and the harvest has tested both the mettle and metal of this most resilient group of farmers. The high value of the crop has only exacerbated the stress farmers are under to get the harvest completed and these conditions will surely affect the planting acreage of potatoes and vegetables next year.

Supplies

Reduced planted area, combined with low carryover stocks and the unavailability of cheap imports, could put supermarkets under more pressure to secure supplies in 2013 than in 2012.

The ongoing monitoring of aphid populations in the main cereal areas by the Irish Tillage Consultants Association (ITCA) continues.

Traps have been set up at emerged crops at 11 sites throughout the country. Aphid levels had dropped off, but have again increased across the regions, in particularly in Louth and Tipperary.

Field conditions are so wet that applications cannot be considered over the next few weeks. However, it is important that crops are treated with an aphicide if and when field conditions improve. Once conditions dry up, many crops will be at a stage where the herbicide could also be included.

Dr Richard Hackett is a crop consultant and member of the ACA and ITCA email: richard.hackett@itca.ie

Indo Farming