Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Winter wheat will get a premium this autumn

Spring wheat and even some spring barley was planted during the few weeks of good weather in late February and early March.

Much of the tillage work during this good dry spell consisted of ploughing, but it was evident, from driving the roads that much of this ploughing turned up soil that was less than ideal for working.

Soil conditions were just starting to improve when the frost and snow came and delayed work.

It is important that soil is only worked when in good condition and when weather conditions allow, because the yield penalty from working ground in poor conditions is substantial and will only lead to financial losses.

There is still time to sow spring wheat and oats. However, if soil conditions are poor, a further delay in planting is recommended.

This will lead to a further increase in spring barley planting, which will probably mean a record production of this crop.

There is no doubt that there will be a price premium for wheat next harvest, considering the reduction in winter wheat sown. In early ripening areas, some growers may be tempted to sow spring wheat late and this might be a reasonable option.

Spring rape is also a good option for a number of growers, considering that forward prices remain strong at over €400/t and good yields of up to 3.65t/ha are achievable if the crop is sown in March. Delaying sowing well into April will still give reasonable yields.

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However, the later the sowing date, the further into September the harvesting date will extend.

There were a number of beet meetings recently across the country to discuss the possibility of recommencing sugar production in Ireland. This possibility is still some way off and decisions taken elsewhere across Europe will dictate if it will ever come to pass.

Nevertheless, beet continues to have a place in tillage farming. There is still a reasonable market for fodder beet and, with prices of €50/t achieved in 2012, this can be a very attractive crop.


However at €50/t, the feeding value is questionable so farmers would be advised to budget on a price of €40/t. At this price, I believe that the crop would be very attractive to both growers and cattle feeders.

Growers should make every effort to arrange their feed market in advance of planting. There is also a limited market in Northern Ireland for beet for anaerobic digestion. This market is likely to expand in the future and should be watched closely.

In the current weather conditions, growers will rightly question the application of fertilisers to cold and wet soils. Some growers are also tempted to plough up winter rape due to serious pigeon damage.

I suggest, before this action is taken, that a trowel or spade be used to determine the length of the tap root.

Many crops have reasonable tap roots again this year and will recover fully and will go on to produce reasonable yield.

For an example of this I would refer you to my own website, which shows a similar situation in 2010.

It contains a photographic record of a crop of winter rape throughout the growing season. Even though it appeared very bare at the end of March, it went on to yield 1.8t/ac at harvest.

Most winter oil-seed rape crops have already received a dressing of nitrogen at this stage.

Once growth recommences, aim to apply approximately 50pc of the total allowed, up to a maximum of 225kg/ha. Include sulphur at 50kg/ha. A good source is ASN, which is 26pc nitrogen and 14pc sulphur.

Many winter barley crops are continuing to turn yellow. My experience has shown that the later application of nitrogen to winter barley crops will allow the continued formation of grain sites and can actually lead to increased yields.

Earlier applications of nitrogen tend to switch the plant from the reproductive stage to the vegetative stage so a yellow crop of winter barley at this stage never concerns me.

Many winter wheat crops are very backward after the difficult winter and the recommendation for this crop would be to feed little and often to encourage crop development.

An early application of a growth regulator and trace elements will also benefit tillering.

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

Irish Independent