Helen Harris: Volatile weather means proper growth has yet to take off

Winter barley
Winter barley
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

The weather is always a challenge in farming and at this time of the year, it can be very unpredictable.

It was unseasonably mild for February and as we have seen again this spring, you can get four seasons in a day during March and April.

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We were watching carefully to see when the proper growth would take off, with the rise in temperatures and also watching for frosty nights.

We need what's termed 'active growth' for most sprays to work, but especially the growth regulators. Usually this happens when the day temperature goes over 12C.

Winter Barley

The winter barley is looking well and has received a fungicide of Zephyr at .75l per ha and a wild oats spray of Axial Pro at .6l per ha. Once we were sure there was no risk of frost, it got .15l per ha of growth regulator Freeze and 1l per ha of Bravo to help control ramularia.

The last of the fertiliser will go out in the next few days. It doesn't look like its under any pressure and as long as we stay on top of disease control, it should be fine.

Winter Wheat

It is not looking as well as the barley, as patches of yellow rust are very visible, especially along one hedge that has high trees. It had received Broadway Star at 265g per acre for wild oats, brome and cleavers, with CeCeCe and Bravo at 1l per ha for growth regulation and fungicide. We also added a sticker to help with contact and absorption on the plant leaf.

The two varieties that are suffering the most with rust problems seem to be the Bennington and JB Diego. A week after the first spray, they received Jenton at 1l per ha and 1l per ha of Bravo.

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We are hoping this will do enough to keep control of the rust. The yellow will stay on the plant leaf, but it should kill the disease. The fertiliser will get topped up to 150 units of nitrogen across all the wheat varieties as well.


The plants are tall and in flower. We are keeping a eye on the plants for any sign of chocolate spot. If we need to, we may go in with a fungicide, but only if it needs it. We were also looking out for the notching on the leaf from pollen beetle.

As there was never beans in this field previously, we didn't have a problem this year, but when it comes back into the rotation the next time, that's when the beetle can do more damage.

Oil Seed Rape

The crop is in full flower with the spectacular sea of bright yellow. As you approach it on a sunny day, you can hear the constant hum of thousands of bees helping to pollinate it. We were getting concerned when it started to flower when we still had frost at night.

This may cause two problems: the first is the frost can scorch-damage the petal and the second is that the bees are not active in cold weather.

Both of these issues can have a detrimental effect on yield. Luckily, the temperatures picked up and the bees got to work.

Spring Barley

The variety we went with this year was Cantton and it is all up and established, and looking good. We sowed at 203kg per ha with the Claydon.

One thing we have noticed with the Claydon drill is that the gaps between rows are that bit bigger, so it can give weeds a better chance. Because of this, we went out with 1.5l per ha with Stomp Aqua for grass weeds, as now there is no IPU.

The other problem, in that particular field, is slugs. Last autumn, we put in a cover crop of mustard and phacelia into that field.

We then mulched it up well and although the weather was dry and the field looked clean, when we put down slug traps, there was a huge population and went out straight away with slug pellets.

It's a very busy time on the roads and silage season is about to start.

I would ask both farmers and drivers to take care and have a little bit of patience.

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

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