Harvest at crisis point as moisture levels plummet

Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare
Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Variable yields and very low moistures are being reported by growers as harvest activity has spread north over the last few days.

Although crops of winter barley have yielded up to 4t/ac in the south, poor grain fill has seen yields dip as low as 2.5-2.7t/ac in some instances.

The best of the yields to date appear to be in the south, with growers in Tipperary reporting that two-row varieties of winter barley are yielding 3.6-3.7t/ac at around 14-15pc moisture, and bushelling in the region of 60-64kph.

Yields in the Laois/south Kildare area have not been as strong, according to Bobby Miller of the Irish Grain Growers Group. He said crops in the area were averaging 3-3.2t/ac.

The harvest started over the weekend in Wexford. The early indications are that crops are generally doing around 3.5-4t/ac, with moistures at around 15pc.

North Kildare grower Helen Harris said that the harvest had just kicked off locally over the weekend.

She said it was too early to give accurate estimates of the yields but moisture content was low at 13-15pc.

On a positive note, Ms Harris predicted that straw yields could be better than expected.

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The shortage of feed on livestock farms means that the bulk of the straw has been bought forward.

One dairy farmer in south Wexford said that he had contacted a number of growers but all of them had sold their straw pre-harvest.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern for spring cereals, with late-sown crops on dry soils already under severe drought stress.

Farmers maintain that some crops will be completely lost over the coming weeks if the high temperatures and dry conditions continue.

The yield potential of the spring crops has already been severely hit, with yields expected to fall by as much as 50pc.

Tipperary-based farm consultant PJ Phelan predicted that overall yields in the cereal harvest will be back by as much as a tonne to the acre.

"I would have put the drop in yield at 0.5t/ac last week but the figure is now creeping up and could hit 1t/ac unless we get rain," Mr Phelan said.

While drought concerns have focussed on the spring cereals, Mr Phelan pointed out that all crops are now under what he described as "severe moisture pressure". With another week of scorching temperature forecast, he said the situation was now critical.

"I'm not sure how much more of this weather crops can take," Mr Phelan said.

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