Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Weighing up the spring tillage options

Schemes such as Greening, GLAS and share farming are changing the tillage landscape, but barley and wheat still dominate the 2015 spring sowing programme

The spring sowing programme gets into full swing this month
The spring sowing programme gets into full swing this month
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

Over the next few weeks growers will be trying to get into fields to commence their spring sowing programme. As usual the main crop to be sown will be spring barley. Spring wheat still struggles to give good returns, and it can be a more expensive and less profitable crop.

Crops will perform better if sown in a timely fashion, particularly if sown in good conditions into a good seed bed. Sowing rates should reflect seed size, date and seed bed conditions.

Certified seed wheat in 2015 appears to be generally larger than normal with a higher Thousand Grain Weight (TGW). Seed barley is closer to the recommended list ratings. The Department of Agriculture recommended list for wheat, barley and oats can be found on the department's website There is a comprehensive description of each variety also included in this list.

Farmers who generally only grow malting barley would be best advised to consider three crops if they plan to grow over 30ha in 2015.

There is a possibility that malting barley growers will get away with just the one crop if they undertake to plant a cover- or catch-crop after next harvest. This is known as equivalence. To qualify for this the farmer must be accepted into the new agri-environment scheme -GLAS - and must undertake to sow all stubbles to a cover crop before mid-September.

 Varieties continue to improve with breeding. However, there are different characteristics for each variety. For example, some varieties suit some situations more than others. In very rich land or after a break crop you should chose a variety with strong straw characteristics and standing ability that is not susceptible to lodging.

Mickle, for example, has a very short straw with good resistance to lodging, while Shada has a moderate straw length and a good resistance to lodging. The variety Paustian is provisionally recommended and is an improved version of Propino. Farmers wishing to minimise their fungicide spend should chose varieties that are most disease resistant.

There is a wide choice with some of the newer varieties obviously showing better resistance. One of the most devastating diseases in barley is rhynchosporium. Many varieties are specifically bred for resistance to rhynchosporium.

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Consequently many of the top varieties have reasonable resistance to this disease. Older varieties such as Frontier, while having some other excellent characteristics, tend to show reduced resistance due to more long term exposure.

Ultimately, weather conditions during the growing season dictate the level of disease that will occur any year. Farmers should generally not rely completely on the resistance ratings. There is also better mildew resistance in the new varieties such as Paustian, Shada and Soklo.

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

Cover crops

Cover crops will come more to the fore for all tillage farmers due to the new regulatory requirements, particularly the green cover and greening requirements. It is difficult to prove that the use of cover crops actually improves yield. Teagasc research shows better results some years compared to others. But there is no doubt that the use of cover crops will help to maintain or even improve soil functionality.

Cover crops have a positive environmental effect by reducing nitrogen leeching and improving soil structure. Depending on the type of cover crop grown it can lead to increased or decreased pest and diseases.

Obviously cover crops also lead to additional costs for seed, sowing and destruction.

The actual economic benefits can be relatively small and are highly dependent on management, crop choice, and the weather conditions in a particular year.

It is likely that cover crop mixes will need to contain at least two species to qualify for the likes of GLAS.

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