Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Why long-term leases are a win-win option for farmers and landowners

Michael O'Donovan from Timoleague taking a break with his horses Paddy and Larry at the annual ploughing match at Timoleague, Co Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle
Michael O'Donovan from Timoleague taking a break with his horses Paddy and Larry at the annual ploughing match at Timoleague, Co Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

In the last few years I have heard more and more about the importance of our soil. I have been to many soil workshops telling me how we need to improve the soil, both nutrition wise and the soil structure.

Now I have come across a new soil test called 'soil your underwear'. This involves burying a pair of new cotton underpants in the soil for a minimum of eight weeks.

Leave the waist band above ground but completely bury the rest. After the eight weeks you dig up the underpants and see how much of it is left.

The theory is, that if you have a lot of biological activity in the soil it will break down the cotton and you will have very little left after the eight weeks. If you have very little biological activity in the soil you will have more cotton left.

In our experiment we decided to try three different cotton underpants in three different fields, to see if there was any difference.

The first field was ploughed, got chopped straw and chicken litter. The second field was min tilled, got chopped straw but no chicken litter.

The third field was ploughed, straw was removed and chicken litter. We marked each site with a flag and hoped the two dogs won't dig them up. It will be very interesting to see if there is much or any difference.

I don't expect there to be too much activity in the soil in cold weather so we may have to leave them for longer than the eight weeks.

Also Read

I do agree that the soil is the foundations for a good crop but I would also argue that with today's prices of grain it is very difficult to invest in the future. Do you feed the soil or feed the plant?

That question becomes even more important on rented land. If you are paying rent but only have the land for the year then surely you invest in the plant. If you have the land long term you can invest in the soil.

This is why I think it is a win-win if you can get land for a long-term lease. It benefits both the land owner and the farmer.


We sent the beans (Fuego) off to be tested before we planted. We do this with all our home saved seed. The results came back with good germination at 88pc and no ascochyta or nematodes present.

However, it did show a high level of botrytis (chocolate spot) at 12.5pc. This was a worry as between 10-15pc is described as high. When we investigated further, we were told that as long as we kept a close eye on the plant, it wouldn't make a difference for germination.

It may make a difference if it developed on the pods and leaves later, but there is treatment available. If we had any level of ascochyta it would have been far more serious as there is no treatment available. This could have had a far more devastating result, especially on germination.

We plan to sow them as soon as the ground allows. We will plough and one pass them in, which only just gets them down deep enough at three inches. Many of our neighbours that are growing beans will direct drill them in at five to six inches deep. With our system it simply doesn't get that deep, and some will say that we are taking a risk with them that close to the surface.

If the crows work out that there is a bean under every green leaf, they can do a lot of damage in a short space of time. They pull them up and you are left with a little row of holes where the beans used to be. It could be time for the banger.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co. Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer.

Indo Farming