Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

The sun shone and the farm burst into life like spring bulbs

Helen Harris

Helen Harris

The sun came out from behind the clouds and it felt like we were coming out of hibernation. Every machine that had been sitting quietly in the back of the shed all winter got a run.

We went mad spreading fertiliser, spraying, spreading slurry, rolling, picking stones and set up the plough for spring barley. It was as if the farm just burst into life like a spring bulb.

Unfortunately, the crops didn't get through winter as well as they would normally. Everything looks stunted, short and discoloured. The cold ground is only just keeping them alive.

With little or no growth it is very difficult for the plant to utilise nutrients, even though we now have the fertiliser out. In theory, we should use a little and often.

However, unpredictable weather and expensive diesel makes this concept impractical.

The worst-looking crop is our winter wheat. We spread 0:7:30 at four bags per acre and 1.5 bags of 27pc nitrogen with 7pc sulphur. It will take about 10 days for the fertiliser to break down.

If the weather has warmed up a little by then, the plant can get the benefit. We purchased the 0:7:30 last autumn, when the plan was to spread it then when the ground was hard with frost.

However, the weather put paid to that notion.

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We also thought that we would save money by buying it early.

By the time we got to spread it though, it was almost exactly the same price as that which we bought it for six months earlier.

The winter barley doesn't look as bad as the wheat and we stuck with the original fertiliser plan. We also sprayed it with IPU to control the annual meadow grass.

The best-looking crop at the moment is the oil seed rape. It received its full amount of phosphorus and potassium after sowing.

We then spread two bags per acre of ASN (26pc nitrogen with 13pc sulphur) and it really came back to life.

The pigeons are still a problem but we have the banger working away trying to scare them off.

We still have some barley to sell, which we decided at Christmas that we would hold for a few months.

It has dropped about €30/t since then and is showing no sign of going back up.


We were also looking at forward selling some barley for next year and the same thing happened, too.

You could have sold at Christmas for a forward price of €200/t for green barley, and now you would be lucky to get €160/t.

We are planning to sow some spring barley but the ground earmarked for it is still very wet. If one inch of rain over an acre is 100t, then we have had a lot of weight fall on the land this year.

That will make the ground very compact and hard to plough. We may have to hit it with the disk harrow between ploughing and the drill to break up the soil.

There is very little choice this year as to what spring crops to put in as seed looks very scarce or very expensive.

I believe a lot of the spring barley is now coming from Denmark as Britain and France are also looking to buy seed and putting pressure on the seed market.

A lot of their seed crop didn't pass quality and germination tests.

We are looking at the T1 list of sprays from last year and the worrying thing is that even though some chemistry may only have about 50pc effectiveness, the price won't be 50pc less.

I do think we have to be very careful as to what fungicides we use as it doesn't look like the chemical companies have any new technology for the future.

If the diseases become more resistant to sprays and SDHI mixes, what can we use in the future?

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

Irish Independent