Farm Ireland

Monday 18 March 2019

Indian summer has paved the way for bumper winter plantings

Beech tree's on the Graigue/New Ross road where lot's of Beech trees were sown in the past and now look so lovely this time of year. Photo: Roger Jones
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

The weather that we missed out on last spring has been more than compensated for this autumn with excellent conditions for sowing. As a result, winter plantings have been very good.

It is difficult to get an accurate indication of areas sown to the various crops however, there is no doubt that winter barley sowings are up significantly on last year, possibly by 25pc to 30pc and it appears likely that the area sown could exceed the previous high levels of 2016.

The percentage of hybrid barley would also appear to be higher, reflecting results achieved this harvest.

While wheat sowing is continuing it is likely that the final area will remain similar to last year's level.

The likely reason for no significant increase in this crop is the absence of sufficient "entry" crops. Thankfully, growers appear to have taken it on board that there is likely to be a major yield (and income) penalty if break crops are not the main crop to precede wheat. 2018 was generally a poor year for planting of break crops.

Yield penalties of up to one tonne per acre were again obvious in second and continuous wheats.

Winter oat planting also appears to be up significantly on 2017. However, this is from a very low base and, from what I understand from the seed trade, it appears that much of the oat seed available has already been sown and therefore likely to leave a seed scarcity for the spring.

Sowing and seed bed conditions have been extremely good this autumn with the result that establishment levels have been at a very high level, even up to 95pc in cases.

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Plant counts for winter barley are generally high partly because of the good establishment rates but also because of the high seed rates used. Winter barley seed quality appears to have been good but it was smaller than usual. The thousand grain weight (TGW) of most varieties were lower than normal.

Many growers appear to have ignored the message this gave in that seed rates were not reduced accordingly.

This has resulted in higher plant stands. Some of my Knowledge Transfer (KT) group members have indicated plant stands of up to 500 plants per square metre in cases. This is too high and will bring its own management challenge.

It may lead to greater disease pressure and challenge the standing ability especially of some varieties. No doubt a hard winter will help to reduce plant stands; however, with the numbers present and the good establishment levels this may not be significant.

While this is not a major cause for concern it is likely to demand better and more timely management decisions next spring. The high plant stand will likely demand different actions from our experiences over the last few seasons.

Cold weather

Considering many of the crops weren't sown until into October, and particularly with most winter barley seed treated with Redigo Deter, the recent cold weather will probably eliminate the need for a supplementary aphicide.

Many crops did not emerge before the middle of October, nevertheless each situation and the ongoing weather must be monitored as the winter approaches.

Cover crops

It has been very noticeable over the last few weeks that cover crops, particularly short term grass, have been saved. It appears the forage situation has improved and when you consider that, at this time last year, stock had already been housed for 4-6 weeks the fact that most stock is still out the demand for forage will also be greatly reduced.

Yields of many of the forage crops, particularly the later sown ones, has been disappointing.

Conservation of the cover crops has proven difficult in many cases with relatively high nitrates and low dry matter levels. Grazing in situ has proven to be the best usage method especially when well managed.

Potato harvest

Potato harvesting is in full swing and again yields are significantly (up to 20pc) back on previous years. However, higher prices again have helped, with prices up to €500 per tonne. Similarly, crops of fodder beet are showing reduced yields but the higher prices of €50 to €60 per tonne will also help to compensate.

Maize yields were similarly reduced but dry matter levels are higher and the price available of €60 to €70 per tonne have also lessened the impact of the lower yields.

Each grower should undertake a full review of the season at this stage. It is likely that most will be disappointed with yields but may be pleasantly surprised when the financials are factored in as the higher price for produce and particularly straw should help to alleviate the issue of lower yields.

Undertaking this review and comparing with previous reviews will confirm the crops most suitable to each farm. This should be used when planning for next year's crops.

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

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