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Early harvesting, mixed yields and catch crops


Stock image.

Stock image.

Stock image.


THE harvest of 2022 may well be remembered for many different things but one will most certainly be how early combines starting rolling in fields across the country.

Winter barley harvesting commenced on the first week of July for some and by the middle of the month many farmers had completed harvesting of the crop.

Performance of winter barley across the county has been extremely mixed. Most winter barley crops have yielded in the region of 3 - 3.5t/ac, with some later harvested crops yielding closer or over 4t/ac but these are the exception. These yields have disappointed many growers and the focus now turns to what factors caused this loss in potential yield. One factor which certainly had an influence was aphids and BYDV.

The unseasonably mild weather through last autumn and winter meant that there was a large amount of aphid flight during this time which spread BYDV through crops and led to poor grain fill and high level of screenings in grain samples. The prolonged dry period during late May and early June also impacted grain fill and this was evident at harvest, with some very low bushel weights being recorded. Harvesting of winter oats and winter oil seed rape had also commenced over the past 7-10 days. Initial yield reports of these crops are much improved on winter barley, but a clearer picture on crop performance will be known once all crops are harvested.

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The early start to the harvest and good weather means that straw has been cleared quickly from fields. This means that there is an excellent opportunity to get catch crops drilled over the coming days before the start of the spring barley harvest. The role of a cover crop is to capture excess nutrients from the soil that have been left over after the cash crop has been harvested. They also have longer term benefits in relation to increasing soil organic matter and improving soil structure.

A catch crop drilled in late July or early August will significantly outperform a crop that is drilled in the second half of August or into September. The most common species of catch crops that many growers have being using since the commencement of the GLAS environmental scheme is the leafy turnip and forage rape mix as it is effective at improving soil health and is reasonably priced. However, there are many other catch crop species currently on the market which are an improvement on the standard GLAS mix in relation to performance but are also more expensive. This means that getting these mixes drilled early in the season is even more vital in order to get a return for your investment.

Farm trials carried out last season showed that a Tillage Radish/Vetch/Phacelia mix drilled on July 27th produced 43kg/ha of fresh weight compared to the same mix drilled on the 29th of August which only produced 12kg/ha of fresh weight. These results indicate the importance of drilling date and early sowing is vital especially if choosing an expensive mix.

Eoin Lyons,


Joint Programme Advisor