A farmer cannot change the weather but critical factors for laying the foundations for high yields next year will be the choice of crops, the rotational position of these crops and time of planting
This will go down as one of the easiest harvests in recent memory. There has scarcely been a stop for wet weather over the past few weeks. Farmers are also thankful grain is at a low moisture, although there is probably too much grain delivered under 15pc moisture content for many farmers’ liking. Grain quality appears to be excellent and it looks likely straw gathered up quickly.
Although there are some incredible yields reported of both winter wheat and spring barley on many farms, these high yields are not universal. There are potentially many reasons for the lower yield but first, what factors are at play to deliver high yields?
I will look at wheat but the factors are similar for barley. The highest yields will be attained from the following — moisture retentive healthy soil, a first wheat in the rotational, a high yielding variety with an even plant population, no poor/wet areas and of course sufficient nutrients, with good pest/disease control.
Nice to have, especially for wheat, is a healthy soil with good organic matter, with some fresh organic matter being added year on year. The final piece of the jigsaw is adequate rain and solar radiation.
Its worth looking at the weather so far this year and how it may have affected yields. Data from met.ie (Oak Park, Carlow ) throws up some interesting comparisons. The solar radiation in 2022 was 6pc lower than the previous three years and 11pc lower than 2021. The rainfall so far was much lower in 2022 compared to the long term average (LTA).
In Oak Park, the rainfall in the critical month of April was 77pc of the LTA, May was 60pc of the LTA but June was 103pc of the LTA, however the majority of this rain in June was towards the end of the month. This was combined with average air temperatures in May of 1.6C higher than the LTA and soil temperatures also 1.6C higher than the LTA.
So when all this is put together, Carlow was less sunny, but drier and warmer than average through the critical growing period, but especially in May. So where a crop was grown on a lighter soil, it was probably short of moisture, thus reducing yields. Early-sown winter wheat/barley had an increased risk of take all due to the warm soils in spring and lack of moisture, with some suffering from BYDV also.
What’s the take-home message here? A farmer cannot change the weather but critical factors for laying the foundations for high yields next year will be the choice of crops, the rotational position of these crops and time of planting. All of these factors are largely within the farmer’s control.
Planning for next year is difficult with all prices on the rise but especially fertilisers and grain prices continue to slip downwards. Based on the crop margins completed by Teagasc, a harvest price of €250/t for grain in 2023 is necessary to leave any margin for tillage farmers (on owned land). At this point farmers will look towards the autumn with a mix of optimism (based on some of the yields this year) and also dread.
Some of this uncertainty can be taken out of the system by both forward-buying some fertilisers and at the same time forward-selling grain. Both of these are major elements contributing to the final gross margin. Despite all the fine weather, take some time to work out your budgets for next year before you plant any crops.
Oilseed rape is a crop which many growers should consider for 2023. Yields this year were well above average, off the back of an excellent growing year. Varieties have improved considerably over the past 10 years with breeders including traits like high disease and virus resistance and, importantly, pod shatter resistance.
Growers this year took advantage of the growth over the autumn and reduced spring nitrogen inputs considerably (by 50pc in many cases) and still achieved high yields.
Planning for oilseed rape generally starts with planting winter barley as an entry crop but as the harvest will be completed early this year, it opens up more fields (ie spring barley) to consider planting. The key to getting high yields is to establish an even crop across the field and ideally coming out of the spring with a good ground cover or Green Area Index (GAI) of 1.5+, which will reduce the nitrogen input in the spring.
Early planting increases the chances of achieving a higher GAI in the spring. Last year we had an almost perfect back end for growth which allowed early-September sown crops to develop a good leaf cover going into winter. However, in years where it turns cool in September and October, September-planted crops can establish poorly and be more prone to weed control issues and bird attack.
If you are planting oilseed rape in the next couple of weeks, make sure to check your soil samples and apply some P and K to help the crop establish. The balance can be applied in the spring. In an index 3 soil (maintenance dressing) the crop requires 35 kg/ha of phosphorus and 75 kg/ha of potassium.
Stubble cultivation is necessary for most farmers this year where the field is destined for spring crops. There is a necessity to leave between 20-25pc of the total cereal area uncultivated for bird feeding, so keep this in mind also.
Where the field is destined for a winter crop, there isn’t any need to cultivate post harvest. However, where you have sterile or great brome in the field, cultivation as soon as possible after harvest will encourage these seeds to chit, thus reducing the weed bank for the next crop. Consult your advisor for the exact requirements on your farm.
Michael Hennessy is head of crop knowledge at Teagasc, Oak Park