Farm Ireland

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Analysis: Plight of tillage farmers may have been buried but impact will be felt

Farmer Eval Mc Donnell from Mortarstown Co Carlow keeping ahead of contractor Dan Rogers sowing fodder beet. Photo Roger Jones.
Farmer Eval Mc Donnell from Mortarstown Co Carlow keeping ahead of contractor Dan Rogers sowing fodder beet. Photo Roger Jones.
The main crops grown include winter oilseed rape, winter and spring barley and winter wheat.
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

This is a spring for the history books and one that will live long in the memory. Planting plans are still changing as seed drills are in fields due to seed availability, land suitability etc. We are all well aware of the forage crisis and the suffering of many farmers and animals.

To say this was a difficult spring is a major understatement and a credit to many farmers who have battled the odds for both themselves and their animals to have survived. Less has been made of the issues concerning tillage growers and yet this is an area that could have longer-term consequences. There has been plenty of talk in relation to the three crop rule being abandoned for the year but the exact details on how any proposed derogation would work have yet to be confirmed.

What is in no doubt is that there is a significant reduction in the winter cereal acreage and a likely significant reduction in spring wheat and beans. There will now be a tendency to plant only spring barley wherever and whenever possible. A good seed bed and good sowing conditions are now even more vital.

There is an opportunity to look at different crop mixes and help the fodder situation next autumn. Both fodder beet and maize are very good options and, under the circumstances, would not be yet considered late. Yields and returns from these crops can be very attractive, however it is vital that contracts or agreements are in place with feeders to ensure that these products find an end market.

There is also no doubt that the break crops planted will be significantly affected but one crop which could still be considered and can be planted late is spring oil seed rape. This crop, if sown late, will generally tend to be sown without the use of herbicides as it grows quickly and can generally effectively smother emerging weeds. It can be a relatively easy and inexpensive crop to grow. If you consider the budgeted input costs for spring barley at approximately €500 per hectare, the inputs for spring rape of €350 compares favourably. An achievable yield of three tonnes of spring rape per hectare compares well with a yield of eight tonnes of spring barley, even allowing for a net straw value of €100 per hectare. It is also likely that spring barley seed will be scarce.

At this stage it might be considered too late to sow beans, however in early, suitable ground the opportunity may still exist and with a likely premium significantly higher than in previous years it may be still a runner.

There is also the option to leave land fallow. Regardless of the three crop rule this is probably the best option for difficult and late land or portions of fields.


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We are obviously busy undertaking Basic Payment Scheme applications and transferring entitlements between farmers. Farmers with "naked land" should try and benefit by using land to draw down extra entitlements which are available for various reasons. This will be a help to improve returns for some growers.

From a management point of view all fertiliser should be applied to winter rape, up to 225kgs N, as many crops are well advanced and some are in flower. Many advanced crops with good early green area indexes (GAI) will require lower N levels. A fungicide with growth regulatory properties plus trace elements should also be applied to rape crops.

The main N split should also be applied to all winter cereals. While growth has been relatively slow, crops are continuing to move through their growth stages. It is now also the time to apply T1's to winter barley, wheat and oats. Disease levels are relatively low but barley should receive a robust T1 including a Triazole, SDHI and chlorothalonil with the addition of a mildewcide such as Flexity or Talius if required. Trace elements should also be applied as this will greatly benefit fast developing crops. The T1 application for winter wheat should include a strong SDHI with an additional Triazole and also include Chlorothalonil.

Trace elements are also important and can be tailored to soil results. The winter oats T1 can consist of products like Tocata or Capalo. Growth regulation will be vital this season due to likely rapid and soft growth. There are a good range of growth regulators available. The use of combinations of Moddus or Medax Max or equivalents with or without Cycocel gives good results however care should be exercised in tank mixing.

Because of the need for fungicides, growth regulators, trace elements and in some cases even herbicides the tendency will be to try and tank mix a number of products. This is highly dangerous particularly if there is rapid and soft growth. If farmers are tempted to include a number of products in the tank have regard to the tank mix sequence where no order is given on the protocol or label.

Extreme care must be taken and products used in a tank should be very limited to avoid mixing and scorch problems.

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

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