Trial hole digging before ploughing is a vital move

At long last – no rain and reasonably good drying conditions. Lighter and some of the medium soils made very good progress last week which enabled ploughing to commence.

The advice to dig trial holes before ploughing to inspect soil conditions just below the plough layer should be followed in all cases.

The soil layer just below plough depth is the section that is going to carry all the weight of the tractor and the plough. If it is wet it will compact aggravating the fact that a lot of clay particles have been washed down there this winter.

In general, that layer has turned grey in colour due to the fact that it has been wet all through the winter period. The soil underneath is generally drier and friable.

There is a temptation to plough deeper so as to open up the layer beneath the normal plough depth. You should be very cautious about ploughing deeper than normal as there is a risk of pushing compaction and movement of clay particles deeper and creating problems for the future.

Spring corn seed availability is very tight, with some merchants reporting that nearly all their seed is ordered.

Given the scarcity of seed and the price, there is a strong temptation to use grain destined for feed as seed.

Doing so will solve the immediate problem of getting seed but is likely to have long-term consequences due to lack of purity, weed and wild oat contamination – and, indeed, high levels of seed borne diseases.

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Farmers should only consider home saved seed if the crop was managed as a seed crop. All home saved seed should be tested for both germination and disease infection. If seed passes those tests it should still be cleaned and dressed with an approved seed dressing.

Manganese should be included with the seed dressing if the land for planting has a history of manganese deficiency. Contractors who provide that service will charge approximately €120-130/t. In addition, royalties must be paid – €43.67/t for wheat, barley and oats.

The other major task facing farmers is to access the viability of winter sown crops. This is no easy task particularly in oilseed rape. Most crops have been grazed severely by pigeons who are now beginning to graze the petiole (the main rib leading to the leaf) of the earlier sown crops.

Later-sown crops have very little showing, making it difficult to determine plant stand.

However, some of those late-sown crops, despite being difficult to see, have a good root system. You will not be able to make a final decision to retain or plough out those crops until they start back into growth. Apply at least one bag of nitrogen to encourage growth.

Plant stands appear very variable at present with some crops averaging over 50 plants per m2 and others struggling to make 10 plants per m2 . Ten plants per m2, particularly with hybrid varieties, is acceptable provided that you do not have large areas with no plants or very few plants.

Many winter wheat crops are still looking miserable. Others, where growth took place a week ago, are looking more promising. The minimum plant stand required is 80 plants per m2, provided that they are evenly spaced and that there is reasonable vigour.

Wheat has a considerable potential to compensate for low plant stands with increased grain numbers per ear and with increased tiller production.

Winter barley looks well in general and in most cases plant stands are reasonably good.

It has little potential to increase grains per ear so it is important to ensure that tillering is promoted and that tillers are retained.

Increased tillering will be achieved in both wheat and barley by well-timed application of growth regulators.

When tillers are established it is important that they have adequate nutrients to avoid loss of the youngest tillers. This may then have to be followed with early fungicide application. Use of phosphides and zinc may well pay dividends.

Patrick J. Phelan is a member of ACA and ITCA and may be contacted at

Irish Independent

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