How crimping can save drought-stressed crops

Combat the dry conditions by harvesting early to minimise losses

Wheat sample after crimping
Wheat sample after crimping
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

Over a month of rain will be required to get back to normal moisture levels and that looks unlikely. Cereal growers facing yield losses due to the long-term dry conditions have been advised to consider alternatives to a conventional harvest before the drought wipes out more of their crop.

While some winter barley may have already been harvested, winter wheat, and some spring-sown crops - many of which were drilled late and then hit by the cold, wet spring - are now suffering from further stress as the hot, dry weather continues. These conditions are diminishing the crop every day rather than filling the grain, so many farmers are anticipating even lower yields as time ticks away.

"For every day without rain and with continued high temperatures, the grain harvest gets smaller and smaller," says Andy Strzelecki, Technical Director with UK-based feed preservation specialists Kelvin Cave Ltd. "If growers leave their crops in the ground until full maturity, they could be harvesting little more than budgie seed."

He therefore advises producers to consider harvesting at the earliest opportunity, and while the grain is 'firm and cheesy'.

"Cereals harvested at this stage - usually between 25pc and 40pc moisture - can be preserved easily by crimping, and the earlier harvest will minimise disease losses, shrivelling and loss of grain," he says. "In any year, crimping produces a higher dry matter yield per hectare than a dry harvest because it avoids these losses, but in conditions like those we are seeing this summer, the relative benefit of the earlier harvest will be even greater."

The crimping process involves the rolling of early-harvested cereals through a crimping machine to expose the carbohydrate and protein, and the application of a preservative. It is then clamped, consolidated and sheeted in much the same way as silage, and so requires no specialist equipment for most producers.

Wheat sample before crimping
Wheat sample before crimping

A number of manufacturers make crimping machines of varying sizes in Ireland, including Cross Agricultural Engineering and Wakely Engineering. These machines are generally able to process any combinable crop with outputs ranging from 1,500-60,000 kg/hr depending on price and specification. While some farmers buy their own smaller crimping units, there are contractors who offer the service as well on a farm-to-farm basis with large outputs.

Whilst Mr Strzelecki advocates crimping where growers are able to use or sell their grain as concentrate feed, he says, in some instances, a better option could be to turn their cereal crops into wholecrop silage. "The choice will depend on each farm's circumstances, the severity of the drought and the amount of forage in store," he says. "As we know, many farmers started this season with completely depleted forage reserves and while they may have taken a reasonable first cut of silage, they are seeing little regrowth for either grazing or subsequent silage cuts. If they are in this position, their preferred option could be to make wholecrop silage to help replenish stocks," he says.

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