Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

Yields are barely covering combine costs in some areas

The wind that shakes the barley: John Jenkinson from Ballywilliamroe, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow working the autumn light as he prepares the field for sowing winter barley. Photo Roger Jones
The wind that shakes the barley: John Jenkinson from Ballywilliamroe, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow working the autumn light as he prepares the field for sowing winter barley. Photo Roger Jones
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

The relatively dry weather of last week allowed further progress to be made with harvest 2016. This was a salvage operation in all cases.

Over the last number of weeks any crops harvested have incurred huge losses and harvesting was extremely slow. In some cases, yields barely covered combining costs. This was particularly the case in the west and northwest where, up to last week, 15-20pc of the grain harvest still remained.

I have heard of cases where despite investment in combining capacity, contractors had to engage smaller combines to travel fields to ensure crops were harvested.

In addition, a lot of straw remains on the flat due to the weather and this is being reflected in demand and prices with talk of up to €15 being paid for 4x4 bales.

Most of the beans now appear to have been harvested. Some crops on wet lands remain and it is possible that some of these may not be harvested at this stage. Yields of this crop had been disappointing compared to 2015 with averages of 2.4t/ac to 2.6t/ac.

Spring oilseed rape also appears to be finished and appears to have averaged 1-1.25t/ac.

The maize harvest is now in full swing. Yields appear to be good and are indicated at 20-25t/ac (wet). Prices are similar to previous years at €45-50/t. Starch levels also appear to be well up this year with over 30pc analysed in many areas.

Harvesting of fodder beet is only getting under way, but yields of 30-35t/ac are reported. The new variety, Bangor, a yellow beet, appears to have a 10-15pc yield advantage on the old reliable Magnum.

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Both of these varieties have the same dry matter. Both maize and beet are excellent crops to grow and feed and they are a very good source of relatively cheap forage. While they have some feeding limitations they are worth including in many diets.

Cover crops

Cover crops are much more evident in the countryside this autumn due to requirements under GLAS.

The most popular mixture used was stubble turnips and rape. These crops, particularly those sown in August and early September look extremely good at the moment. These crops cannot be touched until after December 1. After this they may be grazed.

For growers to get best value from them it will probably be best to pulp them and plough them down in the spring. Depending on the following crop, and its likely destination, different management methods will be required.

These options will be presented here later in the season or early next spring. I note that the sowing date for catch crops has again been extended until October 15.

It is now the ideal time to plant all winter cereals. Plant conventional winter barley at 250-300 seeds/m2 and hybrids at 220-240 seeds/m2. Seeding rates should be adjusted depending on the variety and TGW.

Drill conventional barley varieties at 220-250kg/ha (12-14 st/ac); winter wheat at 200-250 seeds/m2, 125-160 kg/ha (8-10 st/ac) and oats at 320-340 seeds/m2, 140-160 kg/ha (9-10 st/ac). It is still recommended to use Redigo Deter seed dressing.

If grass is likely to be a problem in winter barley it should be treated pre-emergence. Options include Firebird at 0.3L/ha or Defy at 2L/ha+0.1L/ha DFF. A follow up with IPU + DFF may be required after Firebird.

Most sprayer operators are aware that they are obliged to follow the Sustainable Use Directive (SUD). At this stage all operators must have a pesticide user number (PU) before they can apply any pesticide. From November 26 this year all sprayers over five years old need a certificate.

I understand only a small percentage of sprayers have been tested to date and while there are approximately 80 sprayer testers listed on the Department of Agriculture's website ( many of these operators are indicating that the demand to date has been very slow.

The typical faults found with sprayers are mainly related to nozzles, pressure gauges and particularly the general condition of sprayers. Pump capacity is also showing to be a problem in certain instances.

To save costs operators should make sure all the obvious faults are corrected before the tester is called. Some sprayers may be just too expensive to repair and this should be obvious before the tester arrives in the yard. The typical minimum cost of the sprayer test is €150 plus VAT.

This will cover a 12m sprayer with an additional €10/m charge for larger sprayers. Repair costs vary but are typically replacement of nozzles, average €5 each and gauges at €50-150 each. If you carry options for four sets of nozzles all these need to be in good condition.

Disappointingly, all testers spoken to said one of the biggest problems is the absence of PTO guards. Testers refuse to carry out the test without this guard.

It is unbelievable that farmers are still operating machinery that is a significant danger to themselves and their workers considering the threat to life and limb that unprotected PTOs can cause. The certificate issued will be good for five years when tested up to 2020. After this, sprayers will need to be tested every three years.

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

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