Farm Ireland

Thursday 17 January 2019

How many keyboard warriors could hack farmers' long days and sleepless nights?

Ruth (7), Robert (3), Denis (9) and Aisling O'Sullivan (10), Callan, Kilkenny at the Future of Farming Expo in Cillin Hill, Kilkenny. Picture: Pat Moore
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

It's hard to believe it is springtime, with such cold wintry weather lasting well into February. It has been pretty much impossible for tillage farmers to get out into fields that have been regularly saturated over the winter.

However, I don't get much sympathy from either of my brothers that are farming - they are in the middle of calving and lambing.

I do feel sorry for the little calves and lambs being born into such cold weather and I also feel very sorry for the farmers.

Going out day and night into wind and rain, to feed and look after animals is unbelievably tough. The sleep deprivation makes it even harder.

When I see people on social media giving farmers a hard time, I wonder how many of them would be able to handle the long days and sleepless night that are the farmer's lot at this time of the year. At least us tillage farmers experience our stressful time during longer days and better weather.

We have been busy, but most of it is preparation for when we are able to travel the land.

Our beans have come back with 99pc germination which is brilliant.

We have changed the Claydon drill tines to sow the beans and hopefully we will get the fields sprayed off this week.

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Then it is full steam ahead with all the spring crops, followed by, getting the first split of fertiliser out.

We attended many tillage seminars and conferences in January and the Teagasc National Tillage Conference had no less than 19 speakers. It was really good and at the end they had a new system whereby you could submit your question through an App on your phone.

This added a new dimension as you could see what other farmers were thinking on the big screen in front of you. It's always uplifting to meet up with other tillage farmers and hearing what's going on in other parts of the country.

One power point presentation in particular caught my eye at the Teagasc conference. It showed the ideal pH levels for growing crops and demonstrated that the more the acidity drops, the more dramatic the difference.

If your soil pH is 6 instead of 7 it is 10 times more acidic. I went home and opened up our soil samples. I have always known that this one number is probably the single most important factor to get your crops right.

We have taken more soil samples this year than any previous year which meant we were putting a smaller area in each box. This meant that each box was more precise than if we had put a bigger area in each box. The shock that we got was that all or most pH readings were high. We were going to spread lime over the whole farm, but now we need to be much more precise.

We split one 12ac field down the middle and took two samples. One sample had a pH of 7.5 and the other half was 5.8. When we used to plough this field the soil was very consistent over the 12 acres but the side with the lower pH always yielded less. It creates a real headache when it comes to spreading lime.

I know that if we had GPS maps we could precision-spread, but we don't so the lime will be spread by looking at the map and calculating where it's most needed.

Two samples came back with a pH of 8. If the scale works in reverse then this means that these two samples are 10 times more alkaline. This creates another problem as high pH can lock up nutrients and make them unavailable to the plants, even though the soil sample shows that they are there in the soil.

So my question is, how to lower the pH?

We have tried using urea in the past as this may slightly lower a pH. Is there something we can spread that has the opposite effect to lime? Any suggestions to

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

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