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Monday 10 December 2018

Winter barley harvest is well ahead of schedule but yields vary

Eugene Crehan pictured with Michael Whelan (Owner of the 1966 vintage Claas harverter), Peter Niland, Jonathan Regan, Oisin Crehan and Padraig Booth ready to harvest winter barley in Mountbellew, Co Galway. The harvester was rolled out for the launch of the Mountbellew Vintage Festival which takes place on July 29. Photo: David Walsh
Eugene Crehan pictured with Michael Whelan (Owner of the 1966 vintage Claas harverter), Peter Niland, Jonathan Regan, Oisin Crehan and Padraig Booth ready to harvest winter barley in Mountbellew, Co Galway. The harvester was rolled out for the launch of the Mountbellew Vintage Festival which takes place on July 29. Photo: David Walsh
PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

The winter barley harvest is almost over -two to three weeks ahead of target. Yields have been variable ranging from 2.5t/ac to slightly over 4t/ac.

Many farms will end up with yield averages of 3.2 - 3.6t/ac. Six-row hybrids have had mixed performances with conventional two-row varieties outyielding them, while on other farms they outyield the two-row crops by in excess of 0.5t/ac.

Bushels are generally good, largely due to low grain moistures. Most, of the yield variability is linked to moisture availability and upatake of that moisture by plants.

Pressures on root systems due to compaction, fusarium and waterlogging in the early part of the season and moisture stresses on thin soils had severe consequences.

The heavier moisture retentive soils are performing best. However, performance is very much linked to soil management. Where soils were abused or poorly managed in the past, yields are dramatically reduced.

Some of the mid-October sown crops, which may have been sown in an effort to meet conventional timings, into marginal soil conditions, are not performing as well as those sown in mid-November.

Most of the November-sown crops were sown into nice soils. Soil fertility certainly made a major contribution. Soils with low to high potassium levels performed well where high levels of K were applied (120-75 kg/ha). Most, if not all, of the higher yields came from land with soil index 3-4 for phosphate. Split applications of P and K, with up to 30pc of the requirement applied with the final nitrogen split, appears to have paid dividends. Soil pH is generally good where winter barley is sown so I am unable to comment on yield differences between high and low pH soils.

As in every year, responses to slurries are very evident. High soil moistures up to the end of April and early May allowed plants to pick up trace elements, except for highly deficient soils.

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The message for the coming year is that while you have little control over soil type, land must only be worked when soil condition is good. Check soil fertility status or get new soil samples analysed and apply whatever P and K is required to grow crops - even on conacre.

We have never seen better harvesting conditions with virtually every head being picked up even on lodged crops. Lodging is certainly linked to soil moisture stress, with the first or in most cases the second collapsing.

There is considerable evidence that where Terpal was used as the second growth regulator application that lodging was significantly reduced or even avoided.

Our winter wheats remained remarkedly disease free but are now being blasted in. Light fields and light areas of fields are suffering badly. While I have very few second wheats it is obvious that these are suffering because of poorer roots systems.

The message for the coming year is that you need the best of moisture retentive soils for wheat and you must get a good rotation for wheat. Crops should follow leys or break crops such as oilseed rape, beet or beans.

High temperatures during the winter barley harvest has given high grain temperatures.

We have had a few cases of grain heating in stores. If that continues grain must be cooled before piling high. Low heaps in the yard will help, but in many cases grain will have to be run through the drier or piled low in store and ventilated at night. The alternative is to cut late in the evening or at night.

Spring barley

Spring barley is under a lot of pressure. Crops that looked very promising up to two weeks ago now have bleached awns and are visibly wilting during the warmest days. April-sown crops look much better than May sown, which though sown into damp soil have seen very little rainfall since.

Beet got a very difficult start this year with uneven germination presenting difficulties for weed control programmes.

Many crops are now wilting during the day but recovering well at night - perhaps the ideal recipe for high yields.

Application of a fungicide now and again in three to four weeks will prevent disease and improve green leaf retention into the autumn. Approved products include Opera, Difure Pro, Bumper and Bolt.

It is important to use a suitable nozzle size and to apply at least 200l water per hectare.

The addition of boron and possibly magnesium should also be considered.

PJ Phelan is a tillage advisor based in Tipperary and is a member of the ACA and ITCA

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