Farmyard manure is a ready solution to rising fertiliser costs
While an early spring is still possible this week's forecast will delay field work for another while. At this stage plans for the spring should be in place and machinery ready to go when conditions allow.
The three-crop rule may be more difficult to satisfy this year as some farmers failed to get winter cereals sown, but some early sowing may make this a little easier. Growers are well advised to refrain from working soils that are not in good condition as yields will suffer if crops are mucked in.
Spring beans should be the first crop to be considered. Sow to a 10cms depth and target a seed rate of about 35 seeds/m2. Remember this is a six-month crop so the earlier it is sown the earlier the harvest.
If you have ground that is following a break crop such as beans, rape, beet or maize, spring wheat should be considered and should be the next crop to be planted.
Spring oats should also be considered for early sowing and can follow any crop and is a good break crop in its own right.
The seed rate should be determined by the seed size for all crops, but you should plan for approx 350 seeds/m2 for both wheat and oats. Many will consider it too early for planting barley, but if you know your ground and have dry fields in good condition barley can be planted towards the end of the month.
Aim to establish approx. 350 plants/m2 also but you may have to use higher seed rates when drilling to allow for losses. Remember: leaving poor land fallow or sowing grass in an arable field will also help to satisfy the three-crop rule.
Check your soil samples and if your P and K levels are low consider combine drilling the fertiliser with the seed. We are noting an increase in applications under TAMS for combined seed and fertiliser drills. Many farmers are now realising the potential yield penalties associated with low fertility soils. Applying fertiliser close to the seed is a necessity for higher yields.
If a combine drill is not available, you should ensure that fertiliser is put on early and as close to the seed as possible. Higher P usage rates are allowed if you can prove average yields are higher than the standard over the last three years.
If in doubt, check with your adviser. Many growers still do not give due recognition to the value of lime. If your pH levels are low uptake of fertiliser is poorer and obviously yields will be poorer. A minimum pH of 6.5 is required. If pH levels are above 7 an additional 20 kgs of P per hectare is allowed as P tends to be locked up in high pH situations.
It appears that fertiliser costs have increased significantly over 2017 so judicial use of fertiliser based on relevant recent soil results is essential to minimise costs.
Organic manures should be used where possible. As previously advised by both myself and my colleagues, should local livestock farmers require an outlet for their surplus manures this is the time of the year to get best benefit from it.
Contracts for grain
Many growers are currently questioning some of the available contracts. While there is no doubt that extra money can be generated from speciality grain contracts, the small print should be studied before signing on the dotted line.
Growing crops for seed can be very attractive but ensure that you sow these crops in suitable ground free of relevant weeds etc. Seed for these crops can be expensive and if they fail to make the target market it only adds to the overall cost. Many malting barley growers are questioning their current contracts based on prices received last harvest.
There is no doubt that the premium malting bonus does not always leave more money in your pocket or work out as good as was proposed. Many feed buyers can often provide higher prices than the standard and many growers have found that their feed price barley can generate as much or more as their premium crops.
There is the additional risk of extra costs with the premium crops such as malting barley and should they fail to make the relevant spec they will be rejected. I have seen cases over the winter where farmers who delivered surplus quality malting barley obtained very poor feed prices for the surplus supplied. It makes no sense to deliver surplus grain unless you know the price on offer.
It is also apparent that many of these contractual crops have additional requirements on input purchases. Growers should be aware of the costs of these purchases and that they are not over and above the cost that they can purchase through regular outlets. It is going to be another difficult year for tillage growers with no major prospects for major price increases. All costs should be scrutinised as closely as possible to ensure viability.
Now is the time to consider the initial application of nitrogen to boost crops. Oil seed rape and hybrid barley are the priority. The green area index (GAI) of rape crops will determine the amount of nitrogen to appl y.
This could vary between 50 and 150kgs of N per hectare. The better the GAI the lower the level of nitrogen required. Winter barley should receive between 50 and 80kgs of N per hectare.
If conditions allow, apply 40 kgs/ha to backward crops of winter wheat. You should ensure all P fertiliser is applied as soon as possible if not done already.
Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA. www.minnockagri.ie
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