Beastly weather exposes the futility of calendar farming

Maurice Sampson queues for the first shipment of fodder arriving in Buttevant County Cork for farmers. Pic:Mark Condren.
Maurice Sampson queues for the first shipment of fodder arriving in Buttevant County Cork for farmers. Pic:Mark Condren.
Eunice Power with Patrick and Dominic Power at the launch of the West Waterford Festival of Food in Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Now in its 11th year, the West Waterford Festival of Food runs from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd of April Picture: Patrick Browne
PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

There is a serious backlog of work on most tillage farms. We have very few fields fit for ploughing and no sowing done yet despite being into April. It's yet more proof, if needed, of the futility of calendar farming.

Beans must be sown this week to give any chance of a September harvest and oilseed rape by the end of next week.

Extending the bean sowing date a little longer might be considered in "early" areas given that the acreage sown to date is very low.

The Protein Aid Scheme has a budget of €3m and is targeted at production of 12,000 ha to give €250/ha. Payments in 2015 (10,700 ha) was €280/ha and with increasing areas in 2016 (12,500 ha) and 2017 (13,700 ha) reduced to €246 and €215/ha.

A reduced area in 2018, assuming that there is not a rush of sowing over the next few weeks, should give growers a substantial bonus.

Prospects for spring wheat and oats are also diminishing but we have seen some great crops in the past from April sowings.

Seeding rate

Prospects for spring barley are good on most soils up to the end of the month however late sowing will leave crops more susceptible to Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). Seeding rate of all crops, with the exception of spring barley, can remain largely unchanged.

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Both wheat and oats can compensate for reduced tiller numbers with increased grain set per head/panicle; barley does not do so.

The number of viable tillers produced/plant will be reduced the longer sowing is delayed and the standard target of 300 seeds per m2 for spring barley will not be adequate.

Therefore the only way to counter reduced tillering is to increase plant count. However differences in seed size, thousand grain weight (TGW), between varieties must be taken into account. Limona, Hacker, Paustina and Gangway have TGWs less than 50 and do not need seeding rates (kg/ha) as high as Mickle, Irina, Planet and Propino - varieties listed in order of increasing weight.

The smallest (Limona) with a TGW of 48 will give a similar plant stand to Propino with a TGW of 52.6 with almost 10pc less seed - 197kg/ha verses 215kg/ha at 85pc establishment and a target of 350plants/m2. Establishment rates should be better than 85pc into good seedbeds but may be substantially lower if sown into cloddy or poor conditions. Tailor seed rates to seedbed conditions and sowing date. Do not compromise seedbed conditions for sowing date.

The later that crops are sown puts a greater need for good seedbeds as it is more likely that there will be moisture stress on the crop. You must produce fine firm seedbeds.

Winter sown crops have come through the winter remarkedly well. Winter wheats look good and appear to have very low disease levels.

Most have got their first split of nitrogen and are now due their main split. Winter barley, even that sown into November, has come through the winter far better that might have been expected.

However soil heaving due to a combination of wet soil and frost has resulted in root loses, weakened plants and some plant death. Those crops should get nitrogen and depending on soil fertility P and K as soon as possible. That should be followed, as soon as growth commences, with growth regulator and trace elements. Trace element deficiencies are aggravated where there is poor root/seed contact.

The three crop rule is going to present significant difficulties on many farms. Areas such as North Tipperary, which had a late harvest, and in some cases unharvested crops could not be sown in September as every suitable day was taken up with harvesting.

Early and mid October gave us rain and saturated soils unsuitable for sowing and only the brave, who ignored calendar farming dates, managed to sow in early November into marginal soil conditions.

It is now early April - no ploughing , no sowing and few options to sow anything other than spring barley. We need someone to negotiate a derogation for this year.

Finally, to end on a more positive note, market demand is increasing for non GM grains lead by demand for produce from animals which have not been fed with GM feedstuffs.

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

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