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Helen Harris: The sight of the combines finally starting to roll was better than any holiday for me

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Old and New  Padge Howard Farmer from Bellewstown with his Claas rig on his Winter barley Farm   Pic Seamus Farrelly

Old and New Padge Howard Farmer from Bellewstown with his Claas rig on his Winter barley Farm Pic Seamus Farrelly

Old and New Padge Howard Farmer from Bellewstown with his Claas rig on his Winter barley Farm Pic Seamus Farrelly

IT was getting close to harvest and I headed off to get some spare parts.

All I passed on the motorway were camper vans and cars loaded up with bikes. Half the country seemed to be heading west for the beaches and sunshine, I headed back to our field of Cassia winter barley.

We had the Claas combine full of diesel, greased up and ready to go. I should have been jealous of all the holiday-makers, but to tell you the truth, I was delighted to be getting ready for harvest. The thoughts, of the traffic and the crowds, didn't appeal to me at all.

The 18 acre field of barley was the only field of winter barley that didn't have to get re-sown in the spring.

The others were so badly damaged after the winter rain we had no choice, but to replant them with spring crops. The Cassia looked well all year, but as harvest got closer and the southern counties started cutting, the reports weren't good.

I don't know how much is true, but the yields were going from bad to worse. I think that the drought robbed the plants of nutrients and then when the rain did come it was too little too late.

Most reports were 2.5-3mt per acre, which is well below average, but others were as low as 1.5mt/ac.

On the other hand, the reports of the bushel weight were good. I'm no agronomist, but it looks like the plants never tillered properly, yet when they got the late rain they put all their effort into the grain.

So you end up with a lot less heads, but bigger grain in the ones you have. The other thing the late rain brought was disease, especially fusarium. There were lots of reports of heads with dead grain in them and when you look closely you can see the pinkish colour of fusarium.

This may affect the malting growers in particular as most malting contracts only allow 1 pc of the disease. That's a very tight threshold in a year like this.

Even in our field of winter barley the grain was ripe and hard, but most of the straw was still very green.

We probably should have sprayed it off but, by the time we needed to do that, we were too close to harvest.

It will mean that the straw will need a good week on the ground to try and get it fit to bale. There is no doubt that straw will be very scarce this year. It is both short in supply and short in height.

Ours is the same, all the crops are low to the ground and our winter oats is the shortest oat crop we have ever had. Normally its up to my shoulders and this year its up to my waist.

It did get a growth regulator,, but had we known how the year would turn out, it probably didn't need it. At the time of writing I don't have a yield from the winter barley, but according to the yield monitor it is around the 3mt/ac.

That looks about right, with the amount that's in the trailers. The moisture was 17pc and the bushel was 70 kph which is great.

Take-all

Having to change so many crops this year and re-sow many winter crops has had a knock-on effect on our crop rotation. We want to get the oilseed rape in early, usually in mid August, but as it is now going in after spring crops it will be sown slightly later than we would like.

It also makes planning for the future that bit harder as we didn't get to grow what we had planned for this year.

Take-all is a higher risk with the amount of spring crops that we had to plant this year.

When we did get going, it was fabulous to see the combine slowly churning its way through the crop of barley.

And as the sun set and I could smell the straw, I said to myself, some people have to get away to find a little piece of paradise, but aren't I lucky: mine is right here, at home.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co. Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer.

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