There is no doubt that this is turning out to be a very late spring with little or no field work done across most of the country.
As a consequence, the temptation may be to work soils in less than ideal conditions. Spring barley in particular will suffer significant yield penalties if planted in poor conditions. If you have failed to plant spring wheat, oats or beans at this stage your options have greatly reduced for an alternative crop.
If you are still tempted to plant these crops you should choose your earliest fields and be prepared for a late harvest. If a break crop is preferred, spring oil seed rape, fodder beet or maize are good options over the next few weeks.
These crops really benefit from good seed bed conditions so don't rush in.
Once sown in good conditions these crops tend to make rapid progress, management is much easier and cheaper and returns can be attractive. The most important requirement, especially for fodder beet and maize, is a secure outlet at harvest time. This should be agreed before sowing for at least 75pc of your expected yield.
Remember, if you are planting maize in the same ground for more than three years a derogation is required. Be aware also of the requirement to leave a buffer strip unsown adjoining rivers recorded on the 6" OSI maps.
Most winter cereals have received some nitrogen fertiliser at this stage. Many wheat crops are up to growth stage 30 and should have received approximately 25pc of total nitrogen (50-70kgs per hectare). The second or main nitrogen split is probably now due and should be applied at growth stage 31/32 and should be 50-60pc of the total nitrogen planned.
A minimum of 20kgs per hectare of sulphur, particularly on light textured soils, should be included as well. Trace element deficiencies should ideally be corrected between mid tillering and first node. This will generally include copper, manganese and zinc.
All winter cereals, particularly winter oats, have a higher lodging risk potential this year due to higher plant populations and better establishment. This is due to the above average temperatures of last September and October.
Robust rates of growth regulators should be used on oats. Ceraide or Modus/CCC combinations are most effective when active growth is taking place, especially during stem extension. For wheat crops, the PGR treatment should be delayed until crops have reached growth stage 30-31 to maximise the shortening effect.
A period of growth prior to applying the growth regulator will enhance its uptake and efficacy. Under cold conditions (less than 8C) an adjuvant penetrant such as Torpedo 2 should be included.
In mild weather (greater than an average of 8°C over 24 hours) the adjuvant can be excluded to reduce costs. In high-risk situations a follow-up with the likes of Terpal or Cerone with the T2 fungicide may also be appropriate.
Disease levels are rising in all crops and can be expected to really take off with better weather and more active growth. There is significant brown rust on winter barley and pockets of yellow rust on wheat in some locations. These diseases need immediate action. Watch varieties like Oakley and Lion winter wheat in particular for yellow rust. Leibniz winter barley is most susceptible for brown rust and needs to be monitored. Sprayers will start to emerge over the next few weeks, but if these diseases are evident you may have to go sooner rather than later.
Every year brings new and greater challenges. Malting barley growers are now required, in my opinion, to perform the near impossible. Boortmalt contracts this year are stipulating the growers must produce 75pc of their contract for brewing with a protein content of 9.5pc to 10.8pc, while the other 25pc of their contract for distilling at less than 9.5pc protein.
This is a requirement using the same variety grown on the same farm and, in many cases, even in the same field. I await with interest to see how this will be achieved. Maybe those that came up with this plan were imbibing a little too much of the end product from this very same crop.
All our work over the last few weeks has been concentrated on CAP reform and options going forward. The Agricultural Consultants Association has developed a quality calculator to help farmers understand and decide on their options for 2014 and into the future.
No farmer should make their Single Farm Payment Application in 2014 without discussing their options with their consultant.
This is the year to influence the pot of money that will be available to you over the next six years.
The number of entitlements that you eventually end up with will be determined by the hectares of land applied for either in 2013 or 2015, whichever is the lower.
However, the pot of money is determined by what entitlements are "definitively held" by you in 2014. While waiting for your ground to dry out, a few hours spent with your calculator and your advisor working on what exactly you should do over the coming weeks and months would be time well spent. This will have a greater positive influence on your farm income over the next six years than any time spent in the fields.
Pat Minnock is a Carlow-based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA. www.minnockagri.ie