This year’s spring barley, winter wheat and oat harvest is complete in most areas, except for small pockets in the midlands and northeast. In general, the harvest could be described as reasonable to very good.
Crops that looked thin and with poor yield potential coming up to harvest appear to have yielded extremely well. This phenomenon was also seen in other dry years, particularly 1995 and 1984. In those years, the spring and summer were particularly dry and the expectation was for a poor harvest. However, yields outperformed all expectations, especially in 1984.
One of the reasons for the good yields is that in a dry year, plants are encouraged from an early stage of development to put their roots down deep to access moisture and nutrients. March and April this year were particularly dry, with very good sowing conditions.
Crops would have put down deep roots and, while July might have appeared to have been wet, little rain fell. Well-established root systems obviously did the trick, with some crops of winter wheat yielding more than 5t/ac and spring barley 3t/ac. With malting barley making €208/t, this year is turning out to be a much better one than the previous few. However, there were also other factors at play and there is no doubt that a good break crop/rotation provided the best yields.
Nonetheless, there was an enormous variation in yields, even on the same farm with the same management practices. Some of this can be put down to poor soil structure and compaction.
If you investigate your soils, you will note the presence of compaction layers, particularly in fields that have not performed well.
The use of a deep sub-soiler this autumn will pay dividends in these fields. Soil conditions are particularly dry this autumn so a good deep sub-soiling will smash these pans. You should identify the depth of these pan layers and ensure your sub-soiler goes below this depth. This depth could be up to 18 inches or more.
The main potato harvest is now in full swing and growers are reporting good yields. Even at this early stage, there are reports of 16-18t/ac in Rooster crops.
Some spring wheat has been cut but much remains to be harvested. Yields are reported to be variable but better than expected. Prices for grade 1 milling wheat have reached up to and even gone above €200/t green.
Early spring oilseed rape has been harvested with yields of up to 1.8t/ac achieved. Unfortunately, due to strong winds, particularly on September 11-12, there has been a lot of shedding and seed loss. Moistures were relatively high. Crops appear to have shed 25-33pc of their yield that weekend. Even the addition of a pod sealant made little or no difference, such was the velocity of the winds. This is disappointing as the yield potential for spring rape looked exciting this year.
It is now too late to sow winter oilseed rape but preparation can begin for the sowing of winter barley and winter oats.
Winter barley is back in the mix this year due to its performance in the past two years.
The newer varieties have performed very well. Two secrets to good winter barley yields are early sowing and good seedbeds. Similarly with winter oats, frost affect and winter kill on winter oats for this year’s crop was much more pronounced on later-sown crops, particularly ones that were not well consolidated after sowing. Sowing of both of these crops should start immediately and not extend beyond the middle of next month.
It is now too late to apply any further chemical fertilisers. However, slurry can be applied up to October 15, while farmyard manure can be applied up to November 1.
Organic fertilisers should be considered for a number of reasons, not least the improvement in soil fertility. Used over several years, they will contribute to the improvement of the soil organic matter content and consequent soil structure improvement.
Up-to-date soil sample results are required and a nutrient management plan should be followed.