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Tom Tierney Farm Updates

October 2023

Farming in a modern climate at Ballinafagh Autumn 2023

Amidst an extremely difficult harvest, my attention was soon turned to dealing with “EU intelligence in the sky” as the DAFM AgriSnap app was required to validate crops I had planted in fields by uploading field photographs. However the fields in question already had their crops harvested & replanted with cover crops before the queries arose, hence the confusion. Then there was the app not working properly causing endless annoyance - every single time I went to upload photos they’d bounced back!

While the DAFM helpdesk was very helpful, we soon realised it was not the fault of either the iPhone or the gifted photographer, but that of the AgriSnap app.  The issue was soon confirmed by an on the ground DAFM inspection at local level.  After a brisk walk to one of the fields, now cropped for harvest 2024 to winter oilseed rape, we could easily identify the winter barley volunteers, confirming the previous crop to be indeed a winter barley crop! AI nil points, IQ one point.

With all the wet downtime, we assessed the new 3 meter Nitrates Regulation riparian buffer zone requirements and their impact on the farm going forward. For example, we have a 50 acre block that was leased in five years ago and all 6 fields now have to have buffers increased out to 3 meters to comply with current rules.  Having measured these field margins over the 50 acre land block we will lose 2 viable acres to buffer zones. Potentially 8 tonnes/year @ €200/tonne. Not forgetting to mention our landlord will hardly forgo his rental on these nonproductive acres!

The hidden cost of compliance!!

Summer cover crops

The stubbles after winter oilseed rape were disked & air-seeded post-harvest with 4kgs of mustard cover crop, while at the same time complying with the straw incorporation measure. Winter wheat straw was also chopped, disked & air-seeded with a cover crop mix of Buck wheat, Vetch and Phacelia at the same time.  In fact with all the wet weather during harvest I decided all crops would have their straw chopped & disked in, with nutrients returned to the soil instead of exported off field in the form of straw bales. Both of these measures featured in the latest Teagasc MACC, contributing to a reduction in my GHG emissions on farm, which I am trying to achieve as part of the Signpost programme.

Field crop rotations for autumn 2023

Break crops

I’ve more acres of winter oilseed rape this year than I normally would have. This year I’ve planted a conventional winter oilseed rape variety, sown at 8kg/ha using the 5 meter disk harrow with mounted APV air-seeder. Output at 10 acres per hour in catchy weather overcame the usual workload problems of simultaneously combine harvesting & oilseed rape planting, with the higher seed rate allowing for a few losses from weather & slugs. I predict slugs will be a serious issue this year.


We started direct drilling cereals on 8th October with hybrid rye variety KWS Tayo sown at 62kg/ha into a standing green mixed cover crop. We then moved on to winter wheat (Graham) direct drilled at 200kg/ha on 10th October after winter oilseed rape, again into a standing green cover crop of mustard & volunteers.

To terminate the cover crops the newly planted cereals received a pre-emergence herbicide spray consisting of 2.0 Lt/ha of 480g glyphosate plus 0.3 Lt/ha of Firebird herbicide for grass weed control, all applied within days of sowing.

No insecticides will be used. Slug traps will be used to monitor slug feeding pressure. I would prefer not to have to apply slug pellets and will only do so if necessary as part of my IPM crop protection. However, sometimes this is essential as having no crop is not an option.


The latest EU MEP decision (13th October) on glyphosate is disappointing and could be the end of no-till/direct drilling in our Irish maritime climate. Employing no-till practice on my farm allows me to reduce my pesticide use by up to one third compared to conventional intensive tillage. But glyphosate use is an essential part of no-till practice and is used whenever and wherever necessary.  By all means ban or limit sales of glyphosate from DIY home-stores & garden centers, and outlaw its purchase or use by general public & nonprofessional users using unsuitable equipment - but until professional users have an alternative to glyphosate then common sense should prevail, you’d think!!!

Carbon capture

As part of Signpost, Teagasc were on the farm recently to install an Eddy-Covariance flux tower in one of my larger cereal fields. This tower will take real time atmospheric & soil measurements of greenhouse gas exchanges along with meteorological data. Teagasc have already completed on-farm baseline soil carbon testing. These result’s together with the towers measurements will provide data on carbon capture/sequestration on this farm and will be included in the new National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory (NASCO) which will be used to provide accurate, long term information on changes in carbon within Irish agricultural systems.  


This farm also has 11 hectares of forestry that was established on old set-aside fields over twenty years ago. The recent launch of the Afforestation Scheme 2023 - 2027 by Senator Pippa Hackett at the National Ploughing, while overdue, was very welcome news.

Overall the initiative seems to offer more than preceding schemes. I’m particularly interested in the forthcoming details around forestry harvesting machinery incentives as my forestry is due commencement of first thinning & I’d favor sustainable on-farm tree harvesting perhaps using my own forestry machinery in a low environmental impact & sustainable way. This low impact approach would also support continuous cropping forestry which I’m aiming to achieve for my forestry.

Finally, to follow on from a previous mention. My daughter Erin has been successful in getting a placement on a Teagasc Green Cert Course.


June 2023

Am I Looking into a Crystal Ball for the Harvest of 2023 ?

As the growing season on Irish  tillage farms comes to an abrupt end, my crops are no different to others in that the Irish weather has had a significant part to play.   A late wet Spring followed by five plus weeks of drought leaves us wondering how we can build resilience into farming operation’s going forward.

Winter Oilseed Rape

My decision to keep the struggling Winter oilseed rape crop was definitely justified in preference to a late sown crop of Spring barley in drought conditions.  The green leaf area (GAI App) crop management assessment tool was very useful in managing this crop and making key management decisions.  Costs were kept to a minimum to preserve a margin with a total of 90 kg N/ha.  To provoke a bit of discussion amongst readers; I reckon that a seeding rate of 3 kilogram per hectare (50 seeds per square meter) in a direct drilling system is too light for the last week in August.  The question I am asking my advisor is should I be mixing hybrid and conventional varieties and increasing the seed rate to 5 kilograms per hectare? Word of warning - watch this years oilseed rape stubbles for slugs given the humid conditions.

Winter Wheat

My crop of Graham winter wheat defies logic as some of my farming colleagues / advisors are wondering could my IPM & biological approach be replicated around the country.  A combined total nitrogen of foliar and granular leaves this crop standing on 115 kg N/ha with zero fungicides up to the 15th June.  Biological stimulants and trace elements were used at the standard T1 and T2 timings.  The crop also received no growth regulation as Pacifica was applied to control grass weeds such as bromes and wild oats.  With the onset of a wet weather pattern, Prosario fungicide was used on the head together with the planned Bio stimulants.

Farm Succession

Like numerous other Irish farmers, farm succession is a topic that I am looking to explore with my daughter Erin.  She awaits a decision from Teagasc on admission to a Level 5/6 part time agricultural course that she can complete alongside her nursing career in intellectual disabilities.  Erin has a long-term ambition to develop a “Social Farm” on the family tillage farm which can be used by people who require a social support service.

Grain Markets

Lastly, where will the grain markets be for the harvest of 2023 as current grain prices are €35/tonne away from a break even scenario on owned land? Current grain prices leaves those on con acre pondering on the future of a high input tillage system particularly given the European Union’s decision to level subsidy payments by 2028.

April 2023

As Ivan and myself sit down and review what has happened on the farm in Ballinaghfagh, we soon realise that, no different to all other Irish Farmers, very little field work has taken place due to wet weather and poor field conditions.

Winter Wheat

 The Graham winter wheat that was direct drilled into the bean stubbles last October has come through the winter very well.  This crop received a mix of Pacifica and Bi Power in early April with 432 kg per hectare of 18:6:12 + Sulphur going the same week.   There was no signs of the crop taking a check when we walked the crop last week as we were concerned when air temperature dipped to 1oC that night.  The wheat also received NTS Triple 10 foliar feed along with Manganese and Seaweed.

Oilseed Rape

The oilseed rape, variety DK Expansion, is just beginning to flower. A total of 85 kg per hectare of nitrogen was applied with 60 kg per hectare of Sulphur.  Liquid Nitrogen in the form of 24N Omex  is planned shortly.

Winter Barley

The winter barley varieties, Bordeaux and Joyau, were sown on the 26th September.  Similar to numerous other winter barley fields it only received the weed spray Flight in early February with a compound going out mid-February to hold on tillers.   K2 or Ceriade was applied on the 15th of April in an effort to slow down the primary tiller and encourage the weaker tillers to develop.  Time will tell how effective this strategy will be as its timing is later than normal

Spring Beans

From a field work perspective the spring beans variety Lynx which were set just before the weather broke in February have yet to receive any weed sprays or compound P and K.  We are planning Stratus Ultra to control Bromes and Wild Oats and will decide if Basagram is necessary when day time temperatures rise


From a paper work perspective, I decided to purchase a crop record programme from Kingswood Computers in an effort to record all field activities.  My nutrient management plan was drawn up taking into account the dry poultry litter providing me with a fertiliser shopping list for this spring. 

Finally, I have completed the task of filling out my Basis Income Support for Sustainability Scheme for 2023 with Area for Nature and the use of GPS technology satisfying my Eco Scheme options.  

April 2023

Know Your Costs Before Deciding on Re-Sowing

Like numerous tillage growers around the country, the wet conditions after planting last autumn has taken its toll on many winter crops.  I am currently trying to see if my 26 hectares of Hybrid winter oilseed rape (WOSR) is worth keeping or replacing with a crop of malting barley.  I have companion cropped my oilseed rape over the last number of years with good success in an effort to reduce crop N requirements and improve soil health. 

The Costs

In deciding on what to do I first had a look at the costs that I have incurred to date  with the crop such as soil cultivation (1 x disc), sowing (Duncan direct drill), rolling and seeds (OSR & companion crop seeds) giving a total spend of €315/ha currently.

Crop Establishment

My advisor Ivan Whitten and I walked the crop last week and we established there was approximately 5-25 viable plants per square meter (GAI 0.5 to 1.5) however, like many Irish tillage fields there was numerous small areas missing plants due to pest damage and poor weather conditions. In total, it was estimated that 2 hectares were not viable out of the 26ha. 

Decision Time

We have decided not replant the 26ha with a malting barley crop due to the distribution / management of the affected areas in the field.  In addition the crop would have to carry its own growing costs plus the costs incurred to date (€315/ha) on oilseed rape inputs.  Based on the Teagasc Crop Costs & Returns it will cost approximately €1,569/ha to grow a new crop of spring barley.  This gives a total cost of €1,884/ha which will require 7.0 t/ha to cover production costs at a grain price of €270t/t leaving very low returns. 

Managing the Rape Crop

Therefore, the crop of rape will be managed to harvest with the crop receiving an application of 8-5-18 +S+B at 250kg/ha at the time of writing.  This help will kick-start the crop delivering a balanced supply of both major and minor nutrients to aid the manipulation of plant buds on the main raceme.

Yield Potential

We estimated that the WOSR crop has the potential to yield 2.5 to 3.2t/ha. The crop has received an application of Astro Kerb at 1.7 l/ha to control weeds.  Remaining crops inputs such as nitrogen and fungicides will be tailored during the growing season to reflect the projected final yield.  Remaining crop costs are estimated at €609/ha giving a total spend €925 per hectare which will require ~1.6t/ha to cover growing costs at oil seed price of €570/t.   

Nitrates Directive

Like most Irish tillage farmers, I am conscious of the changes in new nitrates directive and in particular the requirement for soil sampling all tillage fields.  The above field were intensively soil-sampled in October 2021 and results indicated soils at K index 4.  Based on the results last year’s crop of winter barley received no potassium (K), with a final crop yield of 10.2 t/ha, this crop will have removed 102kg K/ha (grain & straw).  The field was re-sampled in October 2022 and results indicate that soil K levels have moved back into a high Index 3 (av. 140mg/l) after one year. The oilseed rape crop received 45kg/ha (compound fertiliser) K based on a crop yield potential of 3t/ha to maintain soil K fertility.  

October 2022

Ivan Whitten, Teagasc Tillage Advisor, Naas caught up recently with Tom Tierney, Ballinafagh, prosperous, Kildare on how the harvest went and autumn fieldwork progress to date on the farm.  Tom farms on heavy soils and grows a combination of winter and spring cereals with spring beans and winter oilseed rape.  Tom describes the ease with the harvest in 2022 due to exceptional weather conditions but the take- all and BYDV were very prevalent in early drill crops due to the good sowing conditions in 2021 and the kindness in which crops were established during autumn 2021. However, all things being equal Tom believes his diverse cropping programme helped him spread the risk and build reliance into his regenerative farming business.

The Highs and Lows

Winter barley was a mix of Infinity and Valerie, yielding 9.1 t/ha (3.7 t/ac) and the crop received a total of 161 kg N/has applied as follows - 125kg/ha (100units/ac) of SulCAN plus four applications of 9kg N/ha (7 units/ac) of liquid foliar urea (melted 46% urea).  No P and K applied based on a recent soil test results.  To improve crop N efficiency Tom applies the majority of nitorgen as solid fertiliser and applies regular applications of foliar urea targeted at the plant during the growing season to supply regular N supply and reduce potential N losses as run-off, leaching or volatilization.  There was 12 bales/ac of golden barley straw were promptly removed by local livestock farmers in preparation of this year’s winter oilseed rape crop of DK Exstar, companion crop mix and Starter Fertiliser applied.  Volunteer barley and brome grasses recently controlled with 0.8L/ha of Centurian Max with Astro Kerb planned when the soils cool down.

Distilling Malting Barley achieved a yield of 6.7t/ha (2.7 t/ac) from 88 kg N/ha (70 units/ac) as Sulcan, P and K was supplied as 0-7-30 at 250 kg/ha (2 bags/ac) applied at sowing time. The crop received two foliar applications at 9kg N/ha as foliar urea (melted urea).  A crop of feed spring barley sown on fresher ground yielded 8.4t/ha (3.4 t/ac) on a similar N programme.

No Fungicide Astronomer and Graham Winter Wheat

There is a large focus on IPM on the farm and over the last 2 years, with the aim of reducing crop fungicide load.  Tom has monitored crops intensively (winter & spring wheat) for foliar diseases and eliminated fungicides at key timings.  In 2022, a field of winter wheat was selected to experiment with, this crop remained very clean throughout the season despite high levels of disease been reported on wheats elsewhere. This crop yielded surprisingly well at 10.4t/ha (4.2 t/ ac) at 13.2% and no growth regulators.  The crop received three applications of a combination of silica, Tri Kelp and mixtures of Magnesium, Calcium and Boron to enhance plant tolerance to disease by strengthening cell walls and preventing disease infection.  The crop received a total of 161kgN/ha applied as 125kg N/ha (100 units/ac) of SulCAN plus and four applications of 9kg N/ha (7 units/ac) liquid foliar urea (melted urea).

Break Crops on the Farm

Husky winter oats varied from 7.1 to 9.6t/ha (2.9-3.9 t/ac) grown on 112kgN/ha (90 units/ac) of Sulcan and 9kg N/ha (7 units/ac) as foliar urea. 

Spring beans yielded 6.7t/ha (2.7 t/.ac) at 19% while winter oilseed rape grown with companion crops yielded 1.7t/ha (0.7t/ac) at 7.5% moisture.  There was a large slug pressure and grazing in this crop.

First Wheats

Mustard Seed was direct drilled into the winter oilseed rape (WOSR) stubble at the end of August as a trial.  Winter wheat variety Conros was direct drilled after the WOSR and Round up Flex was applied 48 hours after to control brassicas covers.  Grass weeds will be treated with Allister and Boxer planned towards the end of November.

Oilseed rape, beans, winter wheat, spring barley and oaten straw chopped under the straw incorporation scheme and incorporated by shallow discing to build soil Carbon and replenish potassium off takes on owned and leased lands. 

Pollinator Plan Kildare

Toms a keen fan of this EIP with seven acres maintained as a wild flower meadow.  Yellow Rattle was collected in the locality and direct drilled to increase the diversity of species grown within the field.

The Future

Tom will continue to look at options to build and improve soil health and quality through organic manures, direct drilling, straw chopping and rotational cropping.  However, this combination with the regular use of cover cropping will help build the soils biology and resilience over time. 

Farm Update June 2022

Crop Yield

Crops are looking well with good colour and low levels of disease present.  My winter oats are at ear emergence and have only received an application Talius to date (25th May) for mildew control. At present mildew is moving in the crop and it will sprayed over the coming days with 2.5 l of sulphur and  Verology ra at 1L/ha. The crop looks to have good yield potential having received 90units of N as CAN27% and 1 application of 7 units melted Urea foliar feed. 

Winter Barley

Winter barley received it last fungicide in the 22nd May.  The crop has very low levels of disease to date which I believe is due to reducing the crops N loading.  I have taken a more feeding approach to supplying the crops nitrogen during the growing season.  The crop has received 128units/ac of N applied form two sources. Firstly, 100 units/ac of CAN (27%) plus 4 foliar application of melted Urea at 7 units/ac in each application. Both of these crops have received no P and K due high soil fertility levels (Index 4).

Winter Wheat

My winter wheat is following spring beans and is very clean despite having received no fungicide at either the leaf 1 or leaf 2 spray timings.  At these timings the crop received NTS foliar nutrition of Silca + Trio + Trical + EspoTop at the leaf 2 timing and Silca + Ca, Mg & B + Seaweed at the leaf 2 spray timing.  At time of writing the crop is at flag leaf fully emerged and free of disease to the base.  I will continually monitor this crop for disease and hold out for as long as I can on applying a fungicide.  The crop will receive a further foliar feed at ear emergence +/- a fungicide depending on disease level development.  Last year I grew a crop of spring wheat without fungicide and this year I am looking at trialling a crop of winter wheat to see how far I can reduce my fungicide applications. 

Spring Barley

My spring barley is planet for malting and was mid-April sown.  The crop is looking extremely well with good tillering, colour and vigour. The crop has received all its nitrogen (74 units/ac) and first fungicide is complete. I will further assess the crop for disease levels at awns peeping and plan my fungicide application based on disease levels in the crop.  This crop will receive foliar nutrition also at a later date.