Autumn storms have put the kibosh on winter sowing plans

Malting barley farmer protest recently at the price they are receiving for their crop.
Malting barley farmer protest recently at the price they are receiving for their crop.
PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

The long-drawn-out harvest, some of which we failed to save, has been follow by dreadful conditions for those attempting to sow winter crops in the midlands.

Given our recent series of difficult harvests for spring barley, most growers who were considering increased winter sowings have had little or no opportunity to sow to date.

Oilseed rape followed by winter wheat, which had become our most profitable part of the rotation, is now eliminated for two years as we have little oilseed sown.

Our only option now for wheat ground in 2019 is to sow either beans or oats. Up to now we have sown very little of winter beans but given the late harvest for spring sown beans the option of autumn sowing was being strongly considered.

We have up to early December to sow but with current wet soil conditions it is difficult to visualise the heavier soil types being fit for sowing this side of Christmas.

As beans do not like sitting in saturated soils we may have to opt for lighter soils, which may be drought prone in summer and are not the ideal soils for a future crop of wheat.

Spring oats are the other main alternative to provide an entry for wheat in 2018/9.

They are easy to grow, provided that they are kept standing, but there is always a concern for market demand.

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Given our vastly reduced area of winter barley there will be real pressure on combine capacity next autumn unless we get an ideal harvest.

Less winter barley combined with some of our tillage land going back to grass, will create a scarcity of straw and a lift in prices.

Any further reduction in cereal area will force farmers reliant on straw to look to alternative sources of roughage and bedding.

Farmers who failed to get winter crops sown due to the combination of the late harvest and subsequent poor soil conditions now have the added problem of meeting the three crop rule.

Reverting to fallow land may be an option for some, but taking good land out of production goes against the natural instincts of commercial farmers unless the land will be improved for future cropping.

Putting some land back into grass may well prove to be the most financially viable option in the more intensive dairying areas.

There is now considerable interest in zero grazing with farmers (or should I say their long suffering contractors) prepared to travel several miles for grass.

Beware of the fact that it takes skill and patience for old tillage land to produce high grass yields.

The mild weather of the past few days, despite little drying, gave an opportunity to sow some winter corn. With later sowing, cloddy seedbeds that cannot be rolled and the fear of crow damage it is important to sow at least two inches deep.

Slug baits

Deep sowing will of course delay emergence and give slugs a longer period in which they can do significant damage.

A single slug can hollow out up to 50 seeds in the week after sowing and can continue to do significant damage until the crop starts to tiller.

Loose cloddy seedbeds will leave young cereal seedlings at risk of being destroyed right through until next spring.

Fields where you had to wait for two to three weeks before removing straw are most at risk.

Slug baits (breakfast muesli) covered with a slate or square of plastic should be placed in a "W" pattern through the field in order to determine the need for application of slug pellets.

Leave the covered baits in place overnight and examine early the following morning.

If slugs are found at each baiting point the entire field may need to be spread with pellets or if slugs are confined to one area or no damage is found a lesser or no area may be spread.

Baits should be place either before cultivations or a few days after sowing. Soil disturbance during cultivations will disrupt slug activity and slug numbers found at baits may not give a true indication of slug numbers.

The current approved products contain either metaldehyde or ferric phosphate. Application rates vary for different products and attention should be in selecting products to the number of pellets that will be applied per m2.

PJ Phelan is a tillage advisor based in Tipperary and is a member of the ACA and ITCA

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