Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Tillage: Our workload has suddenly ramped up on a few fronts

Some fields are in need of fertiliser.
Some fields are in need of fertiliser.
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

All of a sudden every field needs some attention, which all combines to make this time of year very busy.

Some fields are in need of fertiliser, others spray. At the moment we are trying to get some crops to speed up and others to slow down.

Most of our winter crops look like they are a little bit backwards for this time of year due to all the rain and cold weather we have had.

We're keeping a close watch on the forecast as there is still a risk of frost which could set them back further. A corner of the oil seed rape field looks like it is quite forward and may just flower very soon.

With the risk of frost, this is very serious as the delicate petals could die if they freeze and this would have a dramatic effect on the yield later on.

We were over in south Germany last week, close to the Black Forest and we could really notice a difference comparing their crops to ours.

It also highlighted how far behind most crops here are, as German crops are at least three weeks ahead even at this early stage of the season.

If our weather doesn't pick up soon this will get even more exaggerated over time.

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As we travelled we were close to a nuclear power plant which meant there were loads of pylons coming in every direction. Some small fields had two or three pylons.

When I suggested that this was a shocking nuisance to plough I was informed that the farmers liked having all the pylons on their land as they were the most productive and profitable part of any field. The clay itself was very stoney and hungry looking. They were rotating crops but the size of the fields were very small.

Some only measured in at two hectares. They had very few hedges dividing the fields and it was very hilly in the area we were travelling in. Unlike other parts of Germany that have large stretches of one crop, this was a patchwork of small fields. There were cover crops, wheat, barley, grass, maize and fruit crops. It was fascinating to see the various crops and get a glimpse into how other farmers operate.


We are always very careful about the fertiliser we spread. It is not only the quality of the fertiliser itself that we examine but each year we also check the calibration of the spreader.

For environmental and economic reasons this is very important. This year was no different. We have kept samples for testing and we bought a fertiliser tray testing kit. This consists of seven trays, that get placed across the 24 metres between the tram lines.

There are also tubes for measuring the quantity spread in each tray and a grid with various sized mesh to measure the size of each granule. The kit also has a probe to measure the hardness of the granule. If the granules are very hard and brittle they may break up on contact with the spinner. We were very happy with the results as all seven trays had the same amount of fertiliser across the 24 metres, and the compound Phil was spreading was made up of very good sized granules. Both of these tests were done on both urea and 10.7.23 + 2S compound.

The main split of fertiliser has gone out now. The winter barley got 90 units of nitrogen and 13.5 of sulphur. It also got 50kg of Kieserite per acre which is a product that we have never used before. It works very similar to epsom salts in its effect, but spreads like granular fertiliser. The difference is that it is much stronger, 15pc magnesium and 20pc sulphur.

The reason why we have decided to go with the Kieserite is that when we sent off our soil samples to get the Albrecht test in the USA, it came back recommending it.

The test showed we were very low in both magnesium and sulphur. It will be interesting to see if we can see a yield difference and not just a good colour in the plant.

The winter wheat has got 80 units of nitrogen in the form of urea (40pc nitrogen and 6pc sulphur).

We always used CAN up to this year but with the price difference we decided to go with urea. This was one of the reasons why we bought the tray testing kit, to make sure we were spreading it evenly. We also went with some Kieserite on two fields of wheat that we hadn't tested but we felt that they really needed a boost.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer

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