Richard Hackett: Whole-crop option should be considered by tillage farmers

Richard Hackett

As May whimpers out in much the same way as it limped in, we are still waiting for more than a few individual pet days to get crops going.

Spring-sown crops are developing well and in general are showing promise. Herbicides and barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) are the main focus on these crops now, including wild oat control where necessary, along with micronutrient deficiencies such as manganese and magnesium to be addressed in places.

Watch out for grass weeds in spring barley crops in particular and adjust the herbicide mix if necessary. Growth regulation can commence on spring oats and also more forward spring sown wheat crops.

Some winter-sown crops are beginning to look like crops and not battle zones, in particular winter barley which is beginning to look luxuriant in places and awaiting the final fungicide to see it through to harvest. Winter oat crops are also looking well, with low disease levels and shorter crops from the poorer growing conditions – that should be advantageous later on.

Some oilseed rape crops look well, but others that struggled from the start and were decimated through the winter by grazing and poor weather. They have finally succumbed to the inevitable and got the chop in recent weeks.

Re-sowing a crop is always a difficult decision to take. It crystallises losses and imposes an extra burden on the following crop to bear the cost of two establishments, which they rarely do. It also gets the field back to the start in terms of risks from slugs and crows, etc. In addition, there are risks associated with the residual herbicide if applied on the failed crop.

However, there comes a time with some crops when they have had enough and any yield from a re-sown crop is better than no yield. Brassica crops like oilseed rape are normally very vigorous developers when given half an opportunity, and can turn inside out very quickly but the spring of 2013 did not present this opportunity and the constant mantra that 'one good week will change this around' did not suffice.

Many winter wheat crops have also suffered and will show this effect through to harvest. Big blank areas of fields, areas with too few plants and not enough compensatory tillers, mixed with some good areas, is the general trend.

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Given poor growing conditions, it's hard to see the good areas compensating for the poor areas, never mind the blank areas.

The one positive is that disease levels are low. With the big spend imminent on the flag leaf fungicide application, assess each crop carefully and decide on the ability of the crop to bear any more cost than is absolutely necessary.

A well thought-out cheap fungicide programme using older chemistry is all the cost that many crops can bear. Any spend from now on is focussed on retaining and protecting what yield potential remains, not creating new potential. And remember, fungicides are applied across the whole crop, in poor areas as well as good, and more often than not the blank areas as well. So take this into account.

There may be a huge opportunity for harvesting late developing crops as whole crop, given the lack of fodder around. As well as providing much needed forage for livestock in the coming winter, whole crop can be harvested much earlier than if left to mature. The crops can then be established much earlier.

The operation should be completed in August, rather than waiting for the end of September, which is going to be the maturity date of many crops this year.

Also there is no straw to bale and remove, so this may present an opportunity for remedial work on land that was not carried out this spring, such as subsoiling, or even drainage work.

Whole crops harvested near maturity contain all the energy contained in the grain fraction of the crop, plus the fibre that is contained in the straw of the crop.

Crops destined for whole crop should be treated in exactly the same way as a normal crop, diseases will affect the grain quality in exactly the same way.

Make contact with a suitable livestock farmer and begin planning now. The two main issues are putting a price on the crop that is to the satisfaction of both parties, and ensuring full payment is made on time.

Dr Richard Hackett is an agricultural consultant and a member of ACA and ITCA.

Irish Independent

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