Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

'Staggering differences' in seed germination

The 2012 harvest may go into the history books for all the wrong reasons. In August we had 21 wet days in the month. In Mullingar, on September 22, grass temperature reached a very cold -4.5C.

During the same week in 2011 a record-breaking 25C was recorded for air temperature.

It has resulted in the most depressing harvest I can remember. There are farmers still trying to get crops cut, even at this late date. All the farmers that have forward sold, including ourselves, are worrying. Do we have enough to fulfil the contract? Is the quality going to be accepted? I have heard rumours of farmers considering breaking their contracts as the price they forward sold at is so much lower than today's price. Now we have the worry about getting next year's crop in the ground. The fields still have puddles of water sitting on them. Winter barley does not like to go in to a bad seed-bed, but how do we improve it? We have been ploughing and sowing between showers trying to finish our winter barley, Cassia. To help break up the soil while ploughing, we added cutters to the plough boards. I don't think it made any difference to the ploughing and I seemed to pick up every rock in the field so they were soon taken off again.

The oil seed rape that we sowed at the end of August is well up, but there is a dramatic difference in germination on the headland of the field. This was much slower to come up, probably due to the compaction of the field.

We are also watching for slugs in both our oilseed rape and the barley. We spread slug pellets and have been moving our slug traps to check different areas of the fields. We have also sprayed the oil seed rape with catamaran and spread a 4.4:6.6:30 compound with boron and sulphur at 2.5 bags per acre.

We have been testing both our soil and our seed. The soil sample results forced us to spread more lime this year.

As rain is slightly acidic the more rain we get the worse it is for the pH of the soil. We have decided to soil-sample every three years rather than five, as the samples and the lime are relatively cheap compared to the fertiliser. If we can get more benefit out of fertiliser because the soil is close to 7pH it should be more cost effective in the long run.

The seed we tested all looked similar in the sample bags. However, when we got the results, the difference was staggering.

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The germination results went from 65-93pc. We put the wheat at 65 back into the grain shed and only seed dressed the grain that had high germination rates. We had hoped this year to buy different varieties, but this may not be as easy as normal.

Firstly, getting particular varieties that pass the germination test is difficult, which makes unusual varieties scarce. Secondly, the price is going to be prohibitively high.

We found a weed that looks like small shiny dock leaves growing in one field that we had seen last year as a small harmless looking patch.

This year it is almost the full length of the field. It is called Colt's Foot and is very hard to kill. As the field is ploughed and the roots are broken up, each piece of root grows again, so by ploughing we actually made the problem worse. It has a waxy leaf that needs to be damaged before spraying with round-up. We ran the ring roller over it.

Because it is hard to kill, it may take two or three years to kill it altogether. It is very important to keep an eye on weeds like these and catch them when they have only just started.

The longer they get to grow, the harder it is to get rid of them. The same can be said of the bind weed that is taking over some hedges around the country. This is the time of the year to cut back hedges and have a look at what is growing in our ditches.

Helen and Philip Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Email:

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