Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

Progress with spring work is slow as weather and pests take their toll

Progress with spring work is slow. That said, most of the lighter and medium-type soils have been ploughed and we are now waiting for conditions to come right on the heavier soils.

Some sowing of winter and spring wheat, spring oats and barley took place during the last few days of February and into early March. Those crops have chatted and some are beginning to emerge. They have been targeted by crows but the battle to keep them out is ongoing.

Even the crows found the harsh weather of last week too much and confined their activities to the more sheltered areas of fields. That, of course, aggravates the problem for farmers as feeding confined to specific areas results in large bare patches.

Current seed dressing provides little deterrent to crows. So, apart from bird scaring devices and shooting, the only option open to farmers is either sowing to a depth of 5cm or delaying sowing until soil temperatures improve resulting in faster emergence.

Sowing into cold soils and indeed deeper sowing results in slow emergence and will leave the emerging crop exposed for a longer period to seeding blight from fusarium and microdochium.

This will put increased pressure on the seed dressings and obviously present a greater risk if the seed dressing was not applied evenly. Therefore, take extra caution and delay sowing if you attempted to dress seed yourself.

It is late now to sow spring wheat, oats or beans. Spring oilseed rape yield potential also suffers as sowings go into April. That said, "farming by calendar" is not always reliable. I will always remember advising a farmer in 1986 not to sow spring wheat in May. He ignored my advice and harvested in October, under lovely weather conditions, over 3t/ac at 78- 80 bushel after everyone else had struggled through a difficult harvest in August and September.

Spring crops sown in ley must be managed carefully. Potash levels are generally low and frequently crops will turn virtually white due to lack of potash. Leather jackets and wireworm are the other major risk factors. I was surprised last autumn with the number of 'daddy longlegs' that were caught in the aphid sticky traps.

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We are still at the stage of making decisions on taking out some poor winter wheats and winter oilseed rape. In some cases, where the decision had been made to re-sow, those decisions are being reviewed in view of the fact that soil conditions are still not fit to allow ploughing/cultivation.

The later that goes the less the potential yield for the newly-sown crop. The position is further aggravated where residual herbicides have been applied. If you have crops in that position it is important to check for label restrictions for subsequent crop types and sowing intervals.

Thin crops must be managed so as to ensure that all existing tillers are maintained and additional tiller production promoted. Maintenance of existing tillers comes down to ensuring that nutrition is adequate and disease prevented.

The use of growth regulators in cereals during tillering has resulted in some very significant yield responses in cereals.

However, there does appear to be substantial differences in response, with some varieties such as Einstein being highly responsive and other varieties including Grafton being less so. The application should take place when there is active growth as persistence in the plant is limited.

Thin crops should certainly not be allowed to suffer nitrogen starvation and should get an application of zinc if soil levels are low or there is a history of zinc deficiency in the area.

Disease levels in cereals are generally very low and in most cases it should be possible to delay the T0 (treatment zero) until close to mid-April in wheat. Winter barley will need an application of a product such as Proline + Chlorothalonil before the end of tillering to prevent rhyncosporium development.

Winter oilseed rape has made reasonable progress over the past few weeks but pigeons are still a problem. Weed control is generally satisfactory but there are still some crops where a graminicide is necessary to control volunteer cereals.

Dupot have introduced a new herbicide, Salsa, which will control many difficult weeds including charlock. But it needs good growing conditions and does not control strong weeds – you must get in on time.

Patrick J. Phelan is a member of ACA and ITCA and may be contacted at

Irish Independent