Sowing date won't determine final yield; the weather during grain fill next July will determine the final outcome

One crop that is bound to put a smile on the face is winter oilseed rape.
One crop that is bound to put a smile on the face is winter oilseed rape.

Richard Hackett

Winter crops in general have enjoyed the spring - about the only living organisms that have.

Colour is good, disease levels are low, they are rushing through the growth stages and are tending towards being thin, but given the season they have endured and the delay in applications, they have come through unscathed and show good promise.

One crop that is bound to put a smile on the face is winter oilseed rape.

No field is without some area of grazed backward areas, but in general they are bursting with vibrant colour and showing good promise.

Winter cereals took a long time to shed their winter coats. In some cases this was a benefit as it gave a prolonged opportunity in poor weather to catch up with weed control etc.

Now the new leaves are emerging apace, lower biomass, cooler weather and delayed spring may contain disease pressure somewhat. But again, it's a long way to harvest, but thus far, yield potential seems to be maintained.

Earlier-sown spring crops are emerging very quickly and evenly, and despite the later sowing date, are showing potential.

The few crops of beans that were sown earlier look a treat and are emerging quickly and evenly.

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This good news is, unfortunately, overshadowed by the poorer crops. Crops sown late into poor seedbeds will undoubtedly carry some penalty.

As I have said before, sowing date won't determine the final yield; the weather during grain fill next July will determine the final outcome.

However, sowing into poor seedbeds will affect plant population, tiller formation and viable grain site formation.

These factors will affect the number of grains per unit area that can be filled.

It doesn't matter how well grains are filled by the summer weather if the number of grains are reduced below a threshold. Yield will be affected by poor sowing conditions.

Before we get too negative on late sowing, we have to examine the alternative.

Given the cost of operating a farm, leaving land idle for a year - which is tempting on a 'don't pour good money after bad' rationale - will impose a significant cost burden, and even more opportunity cost on a farm.

It may well get to a stage on some land, particularly wet heavy land, the option to sow just is not there.

On this land, however, there may be some chance to recoup losses if over the season it can be drained, cleaned up, improved, moved to another enterprise, or 'adiosed' altogether. As Winston Churchill said, "never let a good crisis go to waste" and this kind of thinking should be brought to bear on such land.

A crop that is highly likely to suffer this year is potatoes. Structurally, the potato industry in Ireland is a mess. It is supplied by a small number of high output growers.

The industry has determined that only the very biggest growers survive and in seasons such as this, this structural weakness will become more apparent.

In wet weather nothing gets planted, regardless of the number of growers.

In marginal weather, many growers doing bits of work will plant a lot more acres than a few very large outfits, also doing bits of work. The time required to get through the required acres simply elongates.

Now that we have passed 'Spring Show week', the line in the sand traditionally regarded as the time to finish planting, there are a lot of acres still to be planted.

Again, like cereals, the final outcome is yet to be determined.

But the Achilles heel of the potato industry - its dependence on one late maturing variety (Rooster) - puts the industry on the extreme back foot as we approach a shortened season.


Very soon, decisions will have to be made on reducing Nitrogen levels and increasing seed spacings.

These actions may reduce overall yield but will help to meet minimum sizing specs and minimum dry matter specs as crops head into August with only a few marbles under the plant.

Once planted, it is not easy to reduce the amount of Nitrogen applied and it is even more difficult to increase plant spacings. It's better make the call sooner rather than later.

Richard Hackett is an agronomist based in north Dublin and is a member of the ITCA and ACA

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