Farm Ireland

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Huge variations in winter barley yields highlights disease and rotation issues - Expert

This horsch leeb 5lt sprayer was the subject of much interest at the Kelly machinery demonstration Ballickmoyler, Co Carlow last week which attracted farmers from all over the country. Photo Roger Jones.
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

Most if not all of the winter barley harvest should be completed this week even in the later parts of the country.

Considering the potential that this crop showed before harvest it is safe to say that, generally, yields have been disappointing.

Yields would appear to be back anything up to half a tonne per acre on the last two years and with the prices available the returns from this crop will be disappointing to say the least.

The post mortems have already started and it is essential that growers try to determine why some fields perform and more importantly why some fields don't.

There are many instances where yields vary in fields side by side. If you can analyse your management history, varieties, rotation, fertility, soils, sowing conditions and dates, you may come up with a reason why yields differ so much.

Yields have varied from a high of about 4.5 tonnes to a low of under 3 tonnes per acre.

This is a huge variation and factors that are causing this variation must be identified. From my own investigations I would point to rotation as having a major influence this season.

Generally take all, which is worst in poor rotations, is not regarded as a significant issue in barley.

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However some years it can cause significant problems. I note from rotations with some of my own growers that where third to fifth barleys sown after break crops like beet, in particular, yields have been particularly badly affected.

It may not be significant but I note in similar situations in years three to five where the break crop was oats, yields do not appear to have been similarly affected.

Depending on soil type crops grown in years three to five after a break crops run the risk of a greater take all affect.

When planning for next year take particular care with the crop planned for these years.

Obviously Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) also had a major impact on yields.

The greater impact this season may be due to the very mild winter. It is significant in that a number of growers who sowed late, e.g. late October, actually achieved higher yields than growers who sowed earlier.

If there is one message to be taken from this season very early sown winter barley should be avoided.

While Redigo Deter gives some protection the aphicides available are obviously under pressure and unable to give effective control. Furthermore, there is also significant evidence of Fusarium lesions on barley stubbles indicating that this disease also had a likely negative impact on yields.

From experience growing winter barley there is also no doubt that the crop does not tolerate any type of setback.

The autumn of 2017 was a great opportunity for winter barley crops to establish well and get off to a great start.

Unfortunately because of the mild weather the crop continued to grow throughout the winter and it would appear may have just run out of available nutrients to sustain growth.

It would appear, on worn ground particularly, that many of these crops suffered setbacks and did not have sufficient fertility in the ground over the winter period to support the continued growth over this period of time. Where growers had used organic manures or fertility levels were higher, yields appear to have held up.

I believe a further impact on yields was caused by the dry and particularly the cold April weather especially where growth regulation was undertaken at times when warm days were followed by night frosts.

In June all appeared well with lush crops and what we thought was good flowering and grain filling weather. Obviously this was not the case. June was relatively dry and the drought may have been just too much and affected grain fill.

Reports indicate that bushel weight, while reasonable, in many crops was lower than previous years. Unfortunately, the prices being brandied about appear to be at 2016 prices. I hear much talk of €130 per tonne at 20pc with an occasional merchant sticking their hand up with up to €140 on offer.

Considering these prices and particularly the feeding value that winter feeders could expect from these low prices, it is very disappointing that there have been some imports of barley already.

I am reliably informed that up to 5,000 tonnes of barley was landed in ports over the last two weeks. This is regrettable.

The quality of imported barley is invariably less than that of native grain and, if the grain trade is serious about supporting native producers, surely it is not too much to expect a premium for native produce.

There is no doubt that feeders will be targeted over the winter months by compounders claiming high usage of high quality native grain.

Imports or importers do not serve the tillage industry well with these actions and, in my opinion, will come to regret these decisions which may lead to short term financial gain for some but will be the death of the Irish tillage industry.

Unfortunately, the day is fast approaching when native produced grains will become a very small portion of the animal diets of this country.

Feeders should insist on higher inclusion rates of native grain. I believe the extra premium required for this would give significant support to this beleaguered industry.

It is well accepted that the quality of the Irish produced grain is better than many imported grains. Any further reduction in the tillage industry will have serious repercussions on dairy and beef farmers. Straw, a vital raw material for many cattle farmers, will become even more scarce and expensive.

Winter oil seed rape yields appear to be reasonably good with 1.6 to 2.7 tonnes per acre being achieved at very low moistures. At prices of around €380 per tonne, dried, this crop will probably be one of the best crops this autumn.

The very early sowing, coupled with the mild winter has stood to this crop and in many cases N levels required (and therefore costs) were reduced.

The winter oats harvest is now also well advanced with yields in many places holding up reasonable well.

While there are some three tonne reports, 3.5 to four tonnes with reasonable bushel weights of 62-66KPH appear to be more consistent. Again prices are disappointing with €128 to 135 being mentioned.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA.

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