Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Sun finally shining on rising crop yield

Karen Kearns from Blanchardstown, Dublin at a farm walk organised by Drummonds at Termonfeckin, Co Louth
Karen Kearns from Blanchardstown, Dublin at a farm walk organised by Drummonds at Termonfeckin, Co Louth
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

With the improved weather, especially the temperatures over the last few weeks, recent growth of all crops has been significant. Crops look to have reasonable yield potential at last, but there is still some way to go yet.

Unfortunately, grain prices have continued on their downward spiral and at this stage, even with reasonable yields, break-even points may be hard to achieve. Considering this, the cost of the last fungicide should reflect this.

Winter wheat has progressed well and many thin and patchy crops have filled out and look reasonable now. They are generally much shorter than normal. Crops are very clean and disease levels are low.

Septoria Tritici pressure has increased considerably over the past two weeks and if there is an unsettled weather forecast, there is a risk of various ear diseases creeping in. We have entered the critical period for grain filling. The final T3 fungicide should be applied immediately, if not already. This could include a half to two-thirds rate strobilurin, a half-rate triazole and a full-rate chlorothalonil.

While aphid counts have been low, many crops are now showing significant levels in the head. Spraying with 0.8 l of dimethoate when there is an average of five aphids per head is recommended with the T3.

Winter barley has matured nicely and grain fill looks good. Some hybrids, especially Volume, have higher ear counts relative to conventional types and look particularly good. This may be the standout crop this year. However, again, grain prices are very disappointing.

Consideration should be given to arranging a storage facility for this grain initially. If selling on to end users, make sure of your money.

Spring barley grain filling is also proceeding well and there is good potential to produce quality grain. The current mix of sunshine, rain and good temperatures will aid this process. All crops, even some unsprayed crops, remain relatively disease free. This crop is also short relative to other years but more rainfall will still extend these crops in height.

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Winter oat crops are also shorter than previous years. The combination of poor growing conditions and good timing of PGR applications has insured that lodging risk has been kept low.

Crown Rust and mildew have been well controlled but some crops are showing some levels of Red Leather Disease. There is also significant evidence of signs of stress from earlier cold and dry weather.

Spring oats are generally eared out with low levels of disease pressure. A final spray should be applied immediately and should include a triazole, such as Folicur, to help maintain colour.

Oilseed rape crops are at the pod-filling stage and again most of these crops are shorter than usual. Pod numbers per plant are lower and you would wonder how the very prolonged flowering period this year will affect yields. There is no doubt that the decision time for dessiccation will be challenging and the timing difficult to get right to maximise yields and minimise losses.

Bean crops are generally in full flower. Downy mildew appears to be well controlled. Chocolate spot is normally the major disease and a two-spray programme of prevention is recommended.

Options include Signum 0.5 kg/ha or Amistar 0.5 l/ha + Folicur/Fezan at 0.75 l/ha. Dithane offers protective control mainly, while Metalaxyl M (in Ridomil Gold) offers some curative control. Ridomil Gold and Dithane have off-label clearance for use on beans.

On a different note, it might be worth considering alternative crops for next sowing season, given the falling grain prices and the significant concern about fodder shortages for the coming winter and spring.

Fodder rape and kale are well known to tillage farmers and in addition to providing useful catch crop revenue over the winter will also provide good returns, and improved soil conditioning when used only as a cover crop.

Other alternatives worth considering include Lucerne. This will produce 14-15t DM/ha of forage with a protein content of 18-20pc. Lucerne is better suited to free-draining sites with a pH of 7 and as it is a legume, will require no nitrogen.

Lucerne can be sown from April. For best results, Lucerne should be sown in mid-summer producing a heavy first cut in April/May with the following cuts at 45-day intervals.

Chicory is a perennial forage herb and is capable of producing very high quality forage in early spring and late autumn. Chicory will tolerate low pH soils, as low as pH 5.

Chicory is best sown in spring or late summer/autumn into a firm fine seedbed. It can be grown as a monocrop, part of a mixture or stitched into existing swards.

For tillage land that is not giving a decent financial return a short break might be useful. Italian and hybrid ryegrass are generally short-term leys of up to three years.

Italians are earlier than perennials and if sown in the spring can provide valuable leafy growth through a long growth season.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow-based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA.

Indo Farming