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Vincent Macken Farm Updates

May 2023

Fertiliser Calibration

Earlier this spring I wrote about getting to grips with calibrating my new Amazone fertiliser spreader, and how I had switched to using protected urea as my main chemical nitrogen source. Like all farmers you wait with some trepidation for peak crop growth in May to show up all your mistakes and see where striping has occurred, but thankfully the time I invested in using the Amazone calibration mats and app seems to have paid off.

I am happy that I have saved money switching from CAN to protected urea while also reducing my GHG emissions on the farm.

I am also happy with my winter crops which are showing a lovely even growth pattern over the past few weeks since the weather finally dried and warmed up. 

Spring Beans

As I am finally up to date now with work and am enjoying listening to the birds and nature in full song when out crop walking, it is hard to believe that it has been such a difficult season. The weather certainly played havoc with tillage farmer’s work plans all spring, where we seemed to be constantly fighting for a weather window to complete each task at the ninth hour. The spring beans were established by min-till into excellent seedbeds at the beginning of March, but the incessant rain that began the following week have left any low lying parts very sparse on plant counts. Some late arrivals have begun to appear through the cracks in the ground since it dried out but I wouldn’t be hopeful for a big yield this year to match last years.  Hopefully the Department of Agriculture will look favourably on these areas for the Protein Aid Scheme as it makes sense that Irish farmers are encouraged to grow as much protein crops as possible in Ireland to replace some of the protein being shipped from South America, and also because protein crops help reduce chemical nitrogen use on the farm, as they have a zero nitrogen requirement. With climate change I think we have to make every effort we can, and I certainly will continue to grow beans despite this year’s poor establishment.   

Spring Barley

The small area of spring barley I have was eventually sown on 22nd April after several attempts. This has since received an aphicide and 0.5lt/ha of 75% CCC to help tillering. The Signpost programme’s aphid yellow-traps in my field dictated the use of an aphicide this year due to numbers and the lateness of sowing. I don’t like using insecticides on the farm but sometimes science dictates we have to. Those of you who were at the Signpost crop walk on my farm in February will recall how my winter wheat beside the yard had some slug damage after oilseed rape as I had not applied slug pellets, but happily the problem didn’t get any worse and I feel I made the right decision.


On the fungicide side, the winter wheat to date received no T0, it received full rate Revysol + Folpet @ 1.5lt/ha at T1, and has just received its T2 of full rate Inatreq + Croton@ 1.0lt/ha + Folpet @ 1.5lt/ha. I will wait and see the weather pattern before deciding on T3, as I feel it is not adding much to my margin and could be an area where I might reduce my pesticide spend.

The winter barley looks ok after a difficult season. It got its T2 final fungicide a few weeks ago (Revystar @ 1.0lt/ha + Folpet @ 1.5lt/ha), and will be walked for grass weeds in the coming weeks to ensure I am not building up a grass weed seed bank.

My winter oilseed rape received Filan @ 0.4lt/ha at petal fall for sclerotinia control and 20lt/ha of Efficie-N-t 28 foliar liquid nitrogen which I am trialling to see if this late N application will help with pod-fill.  

The spring beans have been sprayed with Augusta @ 0.5lt/ha + Vitomix @ 2.0lt/ha and will most likely get Signum as the T2 fungicide treatment.

My thoughts now are beginning to turn to pulling out the combine for a service, what cover crops mixes I should be ordering and where I might take a break in June before we are thrown into the heat of battle again with the harvest in July. The tillage farming year happens so fast.


March 2023

My new fertiliser spreader

Since the last time I wrote I have managed to get to grips with my new Amazone ZA-M fertiliser spreader. It has automatic flow rate and forward speed adjustment with weigh cells. There were two main reasons for changing the spreader. The first was that I am tending to use more protected urea and I wanted to be sure that I could spread it well. I have also found myself using many different blends and types of fertiliser in recent years and I needed to ensure that spread patterns were good with each product. This is particularly important with permanent tramlines as any inconsistencies will show up over time. I can now set my spreader up within 10 minutes using the test mats and app on my phone. The 16 mats are easy to bring with me to the field and there is no need to physically weigh anything. Once the pictures are uploaded to the app I get instruction of what adjustments need to be made to get the best spread pattern for the product.

Protected Urea

So far this year I have purchased protected urea and 9-7.4-25 +2% sulphur compound fertiliser. This is a CCF product which it is costing me an extra €17 per tonne bulk over an equivalent non-CCF compound and I feel this is worth it in terms of evenness of spread.

I’ll be in the market for more protected urea hopefully CCF with sulphur depending on price and availability.

I’m on 21m tramlines so urea products are quite suitable particularly with the new spreader and I will opt for protected urea where possible to minimise losses and make cost savings.  I will probably still use some liquid N on headlands to even things up. My soils tend to be higher in phosphorus (P) than potassium (K) and I have used some straight K (MOP 50%) in places in recent years to help balance things up. The mapping of soil test results have helped identify weak areas in fields. I have also begun to chop more straw so that will help too – the straw chopping scheme has been a great benefit and I am increasing my area applied for this season.

Nitrogen Application

So far I have put out 20 units/ac N on winter barley in early to mid-February followed by 32 units/ac N in early March. I tend to sow winter barley on the early side at a heavy seed rate because of the min-till and I like to get out early with some N across a couple of splits to help tiller survival. I will likely follow with two more splits of N – the next one will be the compound fertiliser which is a little later than normal. I will apply 3.5 bags/ac of the compound which is essentially maintenance rates of P & K – I am reluctant to go any lower given the pull out of the ground from the good yields last year.  Winter oilseed rape is up to 52 units/ac N from a variable GAI of 0.5 – 1.6 in early February. Winter wheat has yet to receive any fertiliser but is still looking green and healthy and I am conscious of not pushing it too hard early on to avoid septoria control issues.

Signpost Advisor: Shane Kennedy, Teagasc, Drogheda


January 2023

I farm both owned and rented land just outside Navan, Co. Meath while also carrying out some hire work in the area. I also farm collaboratively with a neighbour sharing labour and some machinery – this helps a lot during busy times of the year.

Establishment Systems

Labour and work rates were also the main reason that ten years ago I moved from a conventional plough and one-pass establishment system to the shallow min-till system that I currently use. My soils are quite heavy with a high clay content and I felt that they had become quite tight and it was taking more diesel, metal and time to create a suitable seedbed. Initially I cultivated to 4-5” with a tine harrow and as my soils adjusted I was able to cultivate to a shallower depth. I now use a heavy trailed 4m disc and follow with a Vaderstad Rapid drill and when planting wheat after beans I direct drill. It works well for me but I have found that suitable cover crops prior to spring cropping are an essential part of the system to preserve and enhance soil structure. I tend to plant earlier in the autumn now to get a good establishment but this can bring challenges in terms of disease and virus control. It’s a balancing act and there is nothing set in stone – the tine harrow and indeed the plough and one-pass are still in the yard for certain situations but I find I am using them less often.

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation has also changed in recent years where I have moved away from continuous winter cereals. Septoria control in winter wheat was becoming more costly and I found that brome became an issue in continuous winter barley as I moved towards min-till. Switching to spring barley allowed me to get on top of the brome situation and the addition of non-cereal break crops to my rotation in the past two years has helped further with grass weed control, not to mention the other benefits of nitrogen savings, breaks in disease cycles and increased cereal yields. I am settling on a target rotation now of spring beans, winter wheat, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter barley or spring barley followed by a cover crop then back into spring beans.


I managed to get out onto ground recently (with duals on) to spray the oilseed rape with Astrokerb at a rate of 1.5 l/ha. In the yard, I am currently modifying some shed space to give me more temporary gain storage capacity which will help with workload at harvest time. I am also getting to grips with a new fertiliser spreader with weigh cells that has an improved headland management system. Having managed to get most of the winter barley sprayed pre-emergence last autumn the pressure is off here, but there is one winter barley field that has received no weed control to date which will make for an interesting comparison at the upcoming Teagasc Crop Walk that I am hosting on the 8th February at 11am.


Signpost Advisor: Shane Kennedy, Teagasc, Drogheda

July 2022

Winter Barley

At the time of writing Vincent has completed the winter barley harvest with yields averaging at 9 t/ha at a moisture of 15 %. Quality was generally very good. Winter barley straw is normally baled as Vincent has a good local market so once fields are cleared thoughts will turn to establishing GLAS and non-GLAS catch crops where appropriate. Extra thought will have to be put into species selection this year as oilseed rape is now in the rotation on Vincent’s farm and the risk of club root build-up with brassica cover crops will have to be taken into consideration.

Oilseed Rape

The oilseed rape has been desiccated pre-harvest with glyphosate but Vincent has done some experimentation whereby certain areas of the crop were left untreated particularly the ‘less green’ areas. The first of the oilseed rape was harvested at 10.5 % moisture at the time of writing however the undesiccated areas were still at 12-13 % moisture so Vincent will hold out on harvesting those for now. A similar approach was taken with nitrogen application earlier in the year whereby the first application was made only to thinner parts of the field using liquid nitrogen.

Winter Wheat

The winter wheat crops are ripening fast with the first wheat after beans looking better than the continuous wheat. Zero nitrogen fertiliser plots were established earlier in the year in both the continuous wheat and first wheat fields and will be analysed pre harvest to try and get to grips with what nitrogen the beans are delivering to the following wheat crop. Also, in the continuous wheat, a three way variety mixture (LG Astronomer, Costello, Graham) was planted to have a look at whether mixtures can provide enhanced septoria control. Alongside this a simple treated vs untreated fungicide demonstration was carried out and differences are clear to see perhaps indicative of the high septoria pressure in the area this season. Wheat straw will be chopped and incorporated in this field to try to enhance soil structure and add organic matter.

Spring Beans

Spring beans are looking very well and seem to have benefited from the preceding over winter cover crop of phacelia and tillage radish which was established in August of 2021 after winter barley. They received a two spray programme with the first spray applied at flowering and the second applied three weeks later. Some downy mildew and chocolate spot are present in the crop but the heavy soils are helping to keep it going during the dry spell.