With less than half the month gone it is already living up to its reputation as "March of many weathers". Already this month we have had some lovely spring days preceded and followed by extremely heavy rains, winds, sleet and even gale force storms (Doris), with some snow forecast as well.
In my article last month, I was quite concerned that growers were sowing crops and applying top dressing to winter crops and I believed this was too early. Many of these crops are emerging due to the mild weather since sowing.
Experienced observers believe that, after the excellent sowing conditions of last autumn, that this spring could present more difficult sowing conditions and this is now coming to pass. It is imperative now that opportunities are grasped when possible to undertake field work as they present themselves.
It goes without saying that sowing should be delayed until suitable conditions, particularly good seed bed conditions, are possible. Experience also dictates that sowing in good conditions, even if a little late, will present better opportunities for decent yields than sowing early in poor conditions. Crop establishment rates suffer for a variety of reasons, not least because of the poor soil and weather conditions at sowing time.
Over the last two weeks I have held my latest round of Knowledge Transfer meetings and to a crop it was evident that all crops are very well established after the mild winter. Wheat was between growth stage 25-30, with some barley almost at 31.
Plant counts in all crops are at or above their ideal target. Wheat crops have between 230 and 280 plants per square metre, hybrid barley 170 plants plus, 6-row barley 220 plants plus, 2-row barley 230 plants plus and oat crops were estimated at and above 320 plants per square meter. Tiller counts in wheat and barley visited were generally high, between 700 and 1,100 per square metre.
Fertiliser application is now a priority. There is no doubt, particularly in winter barley, that some of the smaller tillers will abort if fertiliser is not applied immediately. However, in many cases, even with some losses, there will still be sufficient tiller numbers to achieve good yields.
Do not travel if serious damage is going to be caused to tram lines. There will be plenty of opportunities to apply fertiliser before sowing conditions are good enough. It is more important now that all fertiliser, seed and chemical inputs are on the farm and all machinery is in good working order to be able to capitalise on every opportunity to work. The priority must be for good field conditions rather than panicking to get work done early.
Approximately 30pc of the total nitrogen fertiliser should be applied, 50-70kgs per hectare on wheat and barley. Increase the rate by another 20-30kgs N per hectare for thin or backward crops. The green area index (GAI) on winter oil seed rape crops visited last week were very good, with a GAI of up to 2 evident in many crops.
The higher the GAI at this time of the year the lower the requirement for nitrogen fertiliser and this can be a significant saving. Remember that 120kgs N per hectare can be sufficient for crops with a GAI of 2. Rape crops are generally very strong and advanced this year so once growth starts watch timing for your second split of N.
When weather conditions improve a clean up of weeds in winter crops might be considered. Most crops have received an autumn herbicide, however, typical weeds that can survive are fumitory, groundsel, speedwells, red dead nettle and cleavers.
A low rate of sulphonyl urea with or without low rates of CMPP/Fluroxypyr/Florasulam, depending on weeds present, will generally clean up most crops. Products such as Galaxy or Spitfire are good where there is a broad spectrum of weeds present.
Wild oats or volunteer oats in barley or wheat could also be treated early. However, temperatures are important for good results and the inclusion of a suitable wetter will improve control.
Broadway star is an excellent product (before GS 32) on wheat only for ryegrass, brome, wild oats, cleavers, poppy, pansy, speedwells, charlock, volunteer rape and mayweed.
It is not good on AMG. Alister is excellent on grass weeds and a good range of broadleaved weeds but must be used by GS 30, while Paciticia can be used late when weather conditions warm up for good grass control.
Wheat and barley crops are heading towards growth stage 31 and will soon be at the ideal stage for growth regulation. Temperatures are important but products like K2 and the new Medex Max can work at lower temperatures. However good growing conditions is always advisable for good growth regulation.
"This is now also the time of the year when the most important office work must be completed. The BPS applications opened last week and need to be submitted before the May 15.
You should undertake this work with your advisor in advance of starting your field work. This will keep you out of the fields and allow the soil to dry out for another day or two, you will then be able to proceed with your field work in the happy knowledge that this important office work is completed.
Amendments will be permitted up to the end of May.
Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA. www.minnockagri.ie