Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Mild weather boosts winter cereals acreage

Sheep grazing last week beside the round tower and graveyard at Glendalough, Co Wicklow. Photo Roger Jones
Sheep grazing last week beside the round tower and graveyard at Glendalough, Co Wicklow. Photo Roger Jones
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

The excellent weather and sowing conditions of the last number of weeks has encouraged farmers to plant significant acreages of winter cereals again this autumn.

Reports from the trade indicate that barley and oats sowings are on a par with 2015, while wheat sowing appears to be up slightly.

With conditions remaining good, wheat acerage could still increase further. Oilseed rape planting appears to be in line with 2015. This high level of planting is somewhat surprising considering the long drawn out harvest and particularly, the low product prices achieved.

The general expectation was for a significant reduction in sowings given the prospects for the 2017 harvest prices. Undoubtedly this again shows the resilience of farmers and despite difficulties, continue to expect better times ahead.

It makes it all the more amazing when you consider that most growers had not even discussed the settlement of their 2016 harvest with their merchants or co-ops, yet had already invested in seed for the new season.

It never ceases to surprise me that despite the numerous hits and the low prices farmers still continue to carry on. The projected low harvest prices again for 2017 will not make next season any easier. No doubt hopes are high that the good yields of the last two years will continue and if prices rally an opportunity might arise to see some small return on investment.

Thankfully the Basic Payment Scheme payments are significantly ahead and better than at the same time last year. Sincere compliments must be given to the Department of Agriculture for this.

I have noted, even in our own consultancy, that over 80pc of our farmer clients were paid on the first day this year.

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This compares favourably with the 40 pc which were paid at the same time last year. While there are a number of queries again this year, these mainly relate to satellite or on-the-ground inspections.

The Department of Agriculture can also be complemented for putting an information system in place for consultants whereby they respond quickly with reasons why payments might be held up.

This has greatly minimised our workload, reduced the frustration for both ourselves and our clients and allowed us to get on with more productive and rewarding work.

In the field, there is still some sowing going on. Conditions remain good but as the temperature falls, it is likely that planting and crop establishing conditions will deteriorate. A good firm seedbed is essential for establishment and to reduce slug and bird activity. It is too late to sow winter barley at this stage, while seed rates for wheat and oats should be increased. You should target a minimum of 450 seeds/m2 for wheat and 550 seeds/m2 for oats this week.

Depending on TGW and expected establishment rates of 60-65pc, this could entail a seed rate of 250-270kg/ha for both crops or the equivalent of 16/ 17 stone per acre.

Therefore, considering the likelihood of greater establishment problems and the additional costs of extra seed it might be best to put away the seed drill until the spring.

Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV)

Aphid numbers are extremely high at the moment. The very early sown crops, even treated with Deter, may now need an aphicide. Crops sown in early to mid October with Deter should be treated by the middle of November.

All crops sown without Deter should be treated at the 2 leaf stage. Further treatment may be required on all crops if weather conditions remain mild and conducive to aphid activity. Weed control should now be a priority if not already completed.

This will minimise weed competition and herbicide costs for all crops, which is always more difficult and expensive in the spring.

The typical herbicides are DFF + IPU or various combinations of these products. The use of products containing pendimethalin will give better control of fumitory, cleavers and poppy and are more persistent on grasses. It should be noted that IPU is now in its last year. It is always a good idea to change the type of product used each year as all herbicides have different weed spectrums of control and this can minimise the survival of certain weeds over the winter.

Some spring treatment may be required in cases but generally a low rate of a sulphonylurea will suffice.

Winter rape appears better and more advanced than normal. Most crops have received their herbicide and some have received a fungicidal treatment for light leaf spot.

There are reports of up to 70,000ha of rape having been wiped out in the UK as a result of the dry weather and flea beetle damage. Thankfully the same problems do not appear to have happened here. Most crops seem to be well established and should be able to withstand pigeon attacks this winter.


It appears that straw is relatively scarce this autumn. Poor interest early on and a very difficult harvest has left supplies tight with the likelihood of straw importation a major possibility.

This will lead to more weed problems for growers. Growers should avoid taking organic manure next spring if the straw source is suspect.

Imported straw is a major source of sterile broom and blackgrass, which are becoming a significant problem in the industry. Ryegrass can be a major problem from straw imported from France.

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

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