Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

The highest winter barley yields were on freshest cereal ground

Larry O Reilly from Ballyragget, Co KIlkenny cutting oats last week. The spring oats yield was 3.1 tonnes per acre. Photo Roger Jones.
Larry O Reilly from Ballyragget, Co KIlkenny cutting oats last week. The spring oats yield was 3.1 tonnes per acre. Photo Roger Jones.
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

The winter wheat and spring barley harvest is in full swing this week, with many reporting just an average harvest. Some of the March-sown spring barley appears to have done well, with yields of up to 3.5t/ac reported, while the winter wheat that has been cut to date would indicate yields of 4-4.5t/ac with good bushel weights.

Nevertheless, while these yields might be pleasantly surprising, given the season, they are still well back on the record yields of 2015 and, needless to say there are also some reports of 3-4t/ac yields. It is worth noting that the high yields are coming from fresh ground.

Winter barley yields varied significantly from about 2.5t to 4.5t but what was fairly obvious was the winter barley that followed a break crop and in good fertile ground performed best. Further proof, if this is required, that growing crops in the best land and in the best rotation is your best chance of obtaining the best yields and returns.

Growing crops such as winter barley, which needs careful management and robust inputs, in poor or unsuitable ground will yield accordingly.

Winter oats

With typical variable costs of about €500/ac required to grow the crop (equivalent to a 4t yield at €125/t), then it must be given every chance to perform, otherwise the land is best left fallow. This does not allow for con-acre costs.

On first assessment, winter oats appears to have performed better than expected, with yields from 3t to 4t/ac and many yielding 3.5t/ac plus. Quality and colour also appear reasonable.

Most winter oilseed rape has now been harvested and yields have varied from about 1.1t/ac to 1.9t/ac. Again, this is well back on the highs of 2015 but at the prices available, this crop is going to leave a better return than most other crops this year. Even at the current indicated prices of around €370/t and typical variable costs of €480/ac, a yield of 1.5t gives a return of €75/ac. This compares very favourably with winter barley yielding 3.2t leaving a loss of €100/ac this year.

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When I look back over the last few years, winter oilseed rape is the one crop that has been most consistent in yields and returns. Pod shatter and seed loss at harvest is not the problem it once was, probably due to better varieties. For growers requiring a break crop this autumn, winter oilseed rape is a very good option because of this consistency and returns. Unfortunately, there is probably one big draw back in that if you are considering this crop, it needs to be sown immediately. It is well proven that rape sown in August outperforms crops sown later. Some growers may find small windows of opportunity for sowing this crop between the harvesting of other crops.

Despite a relatively late rape harvest, merchants assure me that there is seed available. Hybrid varieties performed very well again. There will be several varieties on offer, namely hybrids Alizze, DK Extrovert, DK Exentiel, SY Harness, Incentive, and the new Dariot. The conventional Charger, Anastacia and the new Elgar will also be available.

Target seed rates should be 40-50 seeds per square meter. Seed packs containing 1.5 million seeds will sow 3.7ha to 4ha (9.25ac to 10ac). Due to time and work pressure, many growers will consider sowing rape using deep leg grubbers. This system is best if used in dry weather as I find many of the slits produced can suffer excessive slug damage.

Rape seed is particularly small and, in my opinion a good, firm quality seed bed will give better results.

This may be more expensive initially but, in my opinion, worth the extra establishment cost. If there is not a lot of thrash on the ground and you are prepared to closely monitor the emerging crop, slug pellets can be avoided.

As there is no insecticide treated seed available, flea beetles may be a problem at establishment time. Crops should be monitored very closely at emergence and a pyrethroid insecticide should be applied at the first sign of damage. The damage is easy to identify as "shot hole" symptoms on the emerging cotyledon leaves.

A pre-emergence herbicide such as Butisan S or Katamaran should be applied after sowing. If the herbicide is delayed until early emergence, the insecticide can be applied at the same time. Generally, one application should suffice as once the crop gets established, it moves away from potential damage very quickly.

The application of a nitrogen and phosphorus containing fertiliser in the seed bed is essential for good establishment. However, fertiliser use should be determined by the nitrates regulations and particularly by soil results.

Considering the current grain price, it is very disconcerting and annoying to think that the trade is engaging in the importation of barley even if the quality is "to spec".

The quality of native Irish grain is a given and well recognised, particularly for energy levels which gives higher live-weight gains, increased conversion efficiencies and returns from animal feed using native grain. Surely this alone is justification for higher prices for the better quality native grain for inclusion in rations.

There is no doubt that, in addition to the growers losing out on lower prices, the feeders are also losing out with poorer quality rations if the cheap, low-quality imported products are used. Finally, those farmers who have entered GLAS and have catch crops as an action must have this established by September 15 using "light cultivation techniques". The plots must be those that you advised in your 2016 BPS application. If these plots are now harvested, the catch crops should be established immediately to get the maximum benefit.

Two species must be used, with one of these species not making up more than 75pc of the mix. A list of suitable varieties is included in the GLAS specifications. There is no requirement to use certified seed. However, farmers may be required to prove that they grew the home-grown seed on their own 2015 BPS land.

Therefore, the most likely home-saved seed will be either oats, peas or beans. Judicial planning will help to keep the overall costs to a minimum.

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

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