Forward selling on 2019 harvest looks like a solid option
This week will see harvesting completed in most areas. In fact, many winter cereal growers actually finished their harvest in early August.
At this stage it is likely that the only crops, other than maize and fodder beet, remaining are the very late sown spring barley crops and beans.
It is very unlikely that this season - a very late spring with an early harvest - will be repeated regularly but it does demonstrate again the different challenges that can be faced by tillage farmers.
I heard of one case of beans sown in February being harvested in July. Most beans, even late sown, will almost likely be harvested in early September at the latest - not a good omen for yields.
Later crop yields have improved somewhat with many first wheats, especially after significant levels of organic manure, performing extremely well at over 5 tonnes per acre. Spring barley yields appear to have also improved but are still only generally averaging 2.2 to 2.6t/ac.
The remaining crops, mostly late spring barley, are likely to reduce average yields overall. Grain prices continue to rise and straw prices are just hard to believe.
Needless to say this is welcome for the grower and will help to sustain the tillage business for another year. For those committed growers who will be straight back into sowing over the next few weeks it would be worth considering some forward selling of grain for next harvest.
At €200 plus for barley for harvest 2019, growers will be able to get some comfort before embarking on another year of likely uncertainties.
Post-harvest management of stubbles is now vital for good land management especially weed control of the various grass weeds.
Stubble cultivation and glyphosate treatments should be tailored to suit the weeds present. Cover crops, if a market has been secured, should also be considered.
The Fodder Incentive Scheme of €100 for fodder crops or €155 for grass crops is only worthwhile if a market is locked down and crops sown immediately.
There is no doubt that ration prices will exceed €300 per tonne next winter, so well established and managed cover crops will be the cheapest feeding available for stock farmers next winter.
Winter oil seed rape
Now is the time to consider the planting of winter oil seed rape. Ideally this crop should be planted from the middle to the end of August and not later than September 10.
This is a very good break crop and has become more consistent in yields and returns over the last number of years.
Unfortunately, prices did not follow the general cereal price trend this year and while there were reasonable priced forward contracts offered last autumn, prices of €350 per tonne at 9pc this autumn are somewhat disappointing.
Average yields of 1.3 to just over 2t/ac were achieved with a reasonable average of about 1.7t/c. This leaves a return of approximately €130/ac excluding straw, which this year achieved up to €120/ac extra. This compares very favourably with a yield of 2 tonnes of spring barley leaving a margin of €29, assuming €200 per tonne and straw worth an additional €200.
The secret to good rape yields is early sowing and fine firm seed beds. Soil to seed contact and cover needs to be good. Weed control should be pre-emergence with Butisan S or Katamaran Turbo.
The crop should be sown at 40-50 (hybrids) or 50-70 (conventional) seeds per square metre to establish 30 to 35 plants per square metre. There are significant differences in seed varieties.
Possible flea beetle damage should be monitored after sowing and especially during early emergence. These can wipe out crops if not treated early.
For oil seed rape growers who struggled to grow the crop due to the presence of brassica weeds such as hedge mustard or charlock, there is a new option this year in using clearfield varieties such as Monsanto's Impressario CL or Seed Technology's Phoenix.
These can be sprayed with Clearanda/Imazamox which will control the brassica type weeds especially charlock and hedge mustard.
It will also control volunteer spring rape. Clearanda can only be used on clearfield varieties. This technology has been available for the last number of years for seed crops.
This is the first year that it is available for commercial crops and it is recommended that if considering this variety, seed should be ordered immediately. Weed control can be slightly more expensive but it does allow the growing of rape in fields that were previously unsuitable due to the weeds present.
Care should be exercised when deciding on varieties and management to be used.
The Department recommended list has only four varieties; Anastacia (C) tall with good early vigour, DK Extrovert (H) good yields with good light leaf spot resistance, PX113 - semi dwarf variety and SY Harness (H) high yield but can be weak. Other varieties worth considering are Dariot (H), Elgar (C), Picto (C), Expansion (H) Alizze (H), Skye (C) and Kielder (C).
Rape price increases have not matched their cereal counterparts. It is likely that next harvest prices will improve particularly if significant plantings of winter barley and wheat occur across Europe which was not the case in 2017.
Consistency of returns from this crop over the last number of years - particularly the break crop yield benefits achieved annually and again in 2018 - makes this a crop that must be considered by all the larger cereal growers. This will also help to satisfy the three crop rule obligation.
Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA. www.minnockagri.ie
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