Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Wholecrop could reduce workload

Patrick J Phelan

Last week's rain came to the rescue of many of our late sown spring cereal crops which lacked vigour and had widespread magnesium deficiencies.

Many of the early sown spring crops had tillered very well during the previous two weeks and progressed from mediocre-looking crops to crops with real yield potential.

Winter wheat looks promising, with many crops having four green leaves and commencing to flower.

Flowering is all but finished on winter barley and, while many crops are thin, they have plenty of good green foliage.

It is most unusual to see three problems create a solution. This year many tillage farmers are concerned about the pressure on combine capacity to harvest the bigger area of spring barley and get winter crops sown at the same time.

On the other hand, dairy and cattle farmers will be short of forage this winter as there are no carryover stocks from last year. First-cut silage yields have been light and grass covers to date are below target.

The solution is for tillage farmers to sell standing crops of spring barley for wholecrop cereal silage.

Harvesting should take place from the time the cereal grain reaches a soft cheddar consistency until it reaches hard cheddar consistency. This would normally be a period of up to three weeks.

Also Read

The time frame for spring barley will range from early- to mid-July for early crops and perhaps to late-August for late sown crops.

These harvest dates will allow the sowing of winter oilseed rape in late August and avoid a clash between the sowing of it and other winter cereals.

The early harvest should also provide a period to allow soil remediation by sub-soiling where necessary before sowing winter crops.


Crops chosen for wholecrop should be those with a grain yield potential of 7.5 t/ha (3t/ac). In the past, poor crops were used for wholecrop and you cannot transform a crop with poor grain yield potential into good value wholecrop silage.

Assessment of yield potential is therefore a very important factor in valuing a standing crop. It is determined by the number of ears per square metre, the number of grains/ear and the average grain weight (1,000 grain weight).

Grain weight will vary year to year, as can be seen from the Department's recommended list. The 1,000 grain weight of Quench was 46.4 in 2013, 48.3 in 2012 and 47.8 in 2011.

The number of grains per ear can be readily counted in the crop but remember that not only do you count the biggest ears, but you must get an average of all ears and the average number of ears per square metre.

Once you have the basic data you simply multiply grains/ear by ears/m2 by the 1,000 grain weight and divide by 100,000 to get the yield potential in t/ha (see Table 1).

The potential yield of the standing crop will determine its value.

Everyone is nervous about predicting harvest prices and, in view of the way grain prices increased last year up to and after harvest, there is little appetite this year for forward selling.


However, it is still an option that should be considered by tillage farmers.

In any case, the farmer who chooses to sell a standing crop will have to decide on an acceptable price or have an agreement to link it to eventual grain harvest price.

The next big issue is payment. Great if payment is made on the day but, if not, it is important to ensure that payment will be made.

If there is any doubt about the ability to pay, a secure guarantee should be in place.

Management of crops destined for wholecrop silage is identical to that for conventional production until the T2 fungicide, when rates may be reduced and less persistent products selected.

Preservation of wholecrop silage should not be a problem but it is preferable to have a chop length of about 2.5cm to reduce airpockets.

Narrow pits are preferred so as to minimise the amount and time of feed-face exposure. The pit should be covered with two sheets of plastic and weighed down securely.

It should also be filled quickly and rolled well to ensure it is properly compacted.

The crop will be attractive to birds and rodents and control measures should be put in place before problems occur.

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

Irish Independent