Why 2017 will go down as the year of the slug for this tillage farmer

SLUGS: Endless quest for food
SLUGS: Endless quest for food
Slugs (David Cheskin/PA)
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

In the Chinese calendar 2017 is the year of the rooster, but I think for us it will be the year of the slug.

The warm, dull and damp weather, has lead to a population explosion of slugs. This is especially true after the oil seed rape. Every stalk of last year's crop has a family of slugs living in it. I really don't like using slug pellets, but unfortunately we have to.

The newer varieties don't kill the earthworms, so I don't feel as bad. We have tried many different types of pellets and this season we are trying some which are supposed to be more palatable for the slug called Axcela.

This year is a really good test for any slug product. I was about to put a slug trap in one field and I happened to pick up a large rock, to find eight of the little darlings living under it. There was no need for traps to see that there is a huge problem.

Spring beans

We eventually got the spring beans cut after four attempts. The weather this year is really hampering all field work.

The crops was slightly higher in moisture at 22-24pc than we would like but it was better to get it in than risk waiting for the moisture to drop.

It did three tonnes per acre which was better than expected as the headlands were affected by compaction and it was shorter and thinner all year.

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The beans themselves looked very clean but we were disappointed with the weed control.

The rotation in that field has been, oil seed rape, winter wheat and then spring beans. The reason for this, was to get on top of sterile brome which was starting to creep into the field from the headlands.

This year, after the combine left the field, it looked like a fine crop of oil seed rape, as the field was covered with volunteers. The only consolation is that the brome has definitely reduced.

Philip got a rush of blood to the head and has decided that he is not going to plough any field this year. I'm not as convinced as he is with this new Claydon drill. I love to see a clean ploughed field to give the seed a really good start.

When you use a direct drill and see the straw on the top of the clay it's hard to get used to.

As for picking stones, I reckon I could have a fine extension on the house with all the rocks I picked. The drill definitely pulls up more stones than any plough. I have been reassured that this is only for the first couple of years, then it improves.

Over the last few year we have been increasing the amount of organic manures we use to help the soil structure and this is another reason he feels we can go the direct drill route. It is very fast and you cover acres much quicker than a plough and one pass. It also means we can get out with a pre-emergence spray to help control grass weeds.

For many farmers that have been doing direct drill for years this is nothing new, but for us this is our first year to try the whole farm.


We previously only direct drilled after the oil seed rape and beans as the soil was so pliable. It will be interesting to see the difference from other years.

The oil seed rape varieties we went with this year are Pioneer PT256 and DeKalb Exential. The winter barley we had last year were all two row varieties and this year we have decided to go back to six row as well as the two row.

We are trying Bazooka, Belfry (both six row) and Cassia (two row). For the winter wheat we are going to use JB Diego for one more year, with Lumos, Costello and Garrus.

We were thnking that we should change to winter beans rather than spring beans but because of the extra disease without the yield bonus we have decided against it.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer.

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