Weather headaches with SFP penalty risk as fields remain unsown

There appears to be no let up for the tillage farmer in 2012. A difficult summer followed by a difficult harvest is now being followed by a very difficult period in which to get winter crops sown.

There is no doubt that the late harvest and the poor returns have reduced the willingness of farmers to plant this autumn.

However, it is the lack of suitable sowing opportunities that has been the main restriction on the sowing of winter barley and wheat so far. The poor summer left many fields with deep ruts and a requirement for sub soiling. This has not been possible due to the weather since the harvest. Many growers believed that the bad weather would have to improve and consequently, in order to remedy some of the damage done opted to deep plough-damaged land. In many cases this ploughing has left land unworkable.

Of all crops, winter barley is the least forgiving when it comes to planting in poor conditions. It is now close to latest date for planting winter barley. If your land has ploughed up poorly and is in an unworkable state it is preferable to leave this land for spring barley. This however, creates a problem for cross compliance for your Single Farm Payment.

The rules state that green cover must be established within six weeks of ploughing land between July 1 and October 15. As many farmers have pointed out, this is an unworkable rule thought up by officials without any recognition of the likely affect from weather.

Sowing barley into poor soil conditions in late October and early November is a recipe for a disastrous yield next harvest. I have made representation to the Department of Agriculture to immediately make allowances for this situation.

Winter wheat is more forgiving in poor seed bed conditions. However, ground ploughed for winter barley was never intended for winter wheat and, possibly due to rotation, is not suitable for winter wheat even if the weather picks up over the next few weeks.

The Department of Agriculture inspectors need to recognise the difficulties experienced by growers this autumn when carrying out their inspections. If you still intend to try to establish a barley or wheat crop in sub-optimal conditions, seeding rates should be increased by at least 10pc.

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There is also an obligation on all farmers to establish green cover on ground that was sprayed with glyphosate either pre- or post-harvest. How this will be achieved this autumn is anybody's guess. At this stage, no land should be ploughed unless it can be sown immediately. If green cover fails to establish you can only hope that Department of Agriculture inspectors will be reasonable in their assessments.

Winter oil seed rape sowings are well back on 2011 and crops that were sown are much more backward at this stage. The best of this year's crops are still only at the 10 true-leaf stage; the worst are still at the early cotyledon stage. Slug baits should be positioned around fields to monitor populations. Only consider treatment if five or more slugs appear within 24 hours.

Irish Tillage Consultants Association (ITCA) members have erected aphid traps in a number of locations to monitor aphid populations this autumn. These traps are located in north and south Tipperary, Carlow, Kildare, Meath, Dublin and Louth. They will give a good indication of aphid activity over the next 6-8 weeks which is a critical period for emerging crops. Activity has been relatively high over the last two weeks and will warrant aphicide treatment at the 2-4 leaf stage. 2012 saw high levels of barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) infection in all cereals, especially early sown winter barley. While this year's sowings are not as early, action against BYDV is still recommended. The principle vector of BYDV is the bird cherry oat aphid, while the grain aphid also plays a part. Crops that have emerged by October 15 will need two applications of an aphicide or a seed treatment followed by an aphicide. For crops emerged after this, an aphicide applied at the 2-4 leaf stage should suffice.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA.

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