Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Push for a target yield of 3t/ac

Michael Hennessy

At this time of year crop growth should be gathering pace and grass should be waving in fields all over the country. However, crops have not moved over the past week and fertiliser applied over the same period is still sitting on the surface of the ground. Increased temperatures and rain are forecast over the next few days, which will help fertiliser to penetrate the soil for uptake by the plants.

Good progress has been made over the past week with sowing gathering pace. The good drying weather over the past few days has allowed growers with lighter land to achieve good seedbeds. Achieving a good seedbed in heavier land has been trickier. Soil underneath the surface is still sticky and most growers are rightly leaving this ground for a little while to dry further.

Whether it's worthwhile or not to plant spring barley this year is up to each individual grower to answer and to work out their own costs. The choice of this year's spring barley varieties is similar to last year, although Centurion has been dropped off the Department's recommended list and Cropton has been added.

Of the varieties on the list, most people are familiar with Frontier, Cocktail and Quench. These varieties have proven themselves over the past three to four years. Frontier has the weakest straw and is the weakest on disease resistance. Quench has preformed well over the past couple of years and is a good all-rounder with reasonable straw, although it can brackle, and is one of the best for disease resistance. Snakebite is a newer variety and is recommended. It preformed reasonably well last year and stood well in comparison to other varieties.

Of the provisionally recommended varieties, Magaly was the most widely grown last year and grower experience has been mixed. It's standing power has come into question, with straw breakdown cited as its biggest failing. Last year's harvest conditions didn't help, and in a normal year this variety may stand up quite well, but it would benefit from prompt harvesting in any year. Cropton is a new variety to the list and performed well up to last year. Its yield dropped a little then, but its overall three-year average yield still compares well. Its standing power is OK but it is prone to straw breakdown. Again, it's a variety where prompt harvesting should be strongly considered. The variety has a good disease resistance profile and is similar to Quench.

Seeding rates for spring barley will depend on several factors. Native seed saved this year is not as plentiful as in a normal year. It's hard to expect anything different considering the harvest last year. Many growers may be using imported seed this year. A minimum germination of 85pc is required for the sale of certified seed in Ireland. In some cases, native seed will exceed this figure. However, as information is not available on individual seed lots, it is best to assume germination rates will be closer to 85pc than 98pc.

Soils are running 2°C lower than normal and therefore additional losses of seed can be expected when planting into these cold seedbeds. From this starting point we also need to have an eye on the finishing line. One might say a target yield of 3t/ac is a lofty challenge but, in order to generate any profit, this is where we need to aim. To generate this type of yield, a field needs 280 plants/m2, producing an average of three ears a plant, 19 grains an ear and a thousand-grain weight of 45.7g. With these parameters fulfilled on average through the field, a target yield of 3t/ac will be achieved.

So the first building block is an established plant stand of 280/m2. Allowing for a seed loss of 15pc, the target seeding rate to achieve this is 177-193kg/ha (11.3-12.3 st/ac) for spring barley this year. These seeding rates can be reduced if seedbeds are excellent, but keep in mind that soils are colder than normal this year.

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Irish Independent