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Farming

We've been tested to the limit this harvest

I know stress is part of every job but this year is testing us to our limit. If it wasn't for friends and family we would still be cutting. Everyone helped out and we got it all in. The bad weather has been compared to the very bad year of 1985, but others are saying it's worse.

Every weather forecast since May seems to have the words unsettled weather and scattered showers.

Even when we did get the few dry days, things seemed to go wrong just to stress us a little bit more.

We are lucky in the sense that we have our own combine and that means when the weather looked like showers were on the way, we could cut little bits to keep the dryer going, even if it was at higher moisture than we would like.

Although the price is high this year, we have forward-sold a lot of our crop. Normally we only forward-sell about two- thirds of the crop, but that is presuming you get a 4t/ac crop. This year looks like our yields will be down and the cost of drying the crop will be much higher due to the higher moisture and higher cost of fuel.

We may not have any other wheat to sell, other than what is locked into contracts at much lower prices.

The other worry farmers have this year is the fact that their bushel weight may not reach the amount set out in their contracts. So far, all of our wheat and barley has reached the level needed for our contract. I think merchants this year will have to allow the level to drop as this is an exceptional year. What will the merchants do if the wheat doesn't pass and what do they expect the farmer to do?

When we look at the figures for forward-selling, it does beg the question, should we keep doing this? The experts tell us that if we forward-sell, we know what we can make from the crop and cover some of our fixed costs.

However, in the past nine years we have been forward- selling, there have been very few years where we have done any better than farmers selling green. This year we will be doing a lot worse.

We have sent off three samples of wheat and barley to test for germination and fusarium. We use home-saved seed every year but we need to know is it good enough this year. Britain has had the same weather that we have had and they have the same trouble with disease pressure. If the British grain doesn't pass for seed, it could make seed very expensive and hard to get this year.

We got a small amount of winter wheat last year called Invicta, and grew it for seed this year but it did not perform well in our ground so we will have to rethink that for seed. We also had planned to keep some Grafton winter wheat but just looking at it you could see the pink spots of fusarium. You didn't need it tested to see that it would not pass for seed.

Last year we got some of our seed with the seed dressing Deter on it. It looked more vigorous all year and although we don't have the weight and bushel results yet, I would suspect it was better than the half of the field that did not receive any. We will be looking at using more of that this year.

We have also put in some oilseed rape, which we haven't grown for a few years, into 50ac. It is a semi-dwarf variety. With the slugs as bad as they are, we will be putting out 2kg/ac of slug pellets. We ploughed and sowed it but our neighbours Shay and Michael Grace have used their no-till Claydon drill for theirs. We will be comparing how well they both do and whether it's a drill we should look at in the future if we decide introduce more rotation into our continuous wheats.

Helen and Philip Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Email: helenharrisfarm@gmail.com

Indo Farming