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Tillage Update - 13th January 2022

Most cereal growers have some level of catch or cover crops growing in fields that are destined for spring crops. Shay Phelan, Teagasc Crops Specialist focuses on managing catch crops in this tillage update.

Above image: Sheep grazing catch crop

The benefits of these catch crops are well documented at this stage from nutrient trapping to soil structure improvements but quite often many growers are left in a quandary as to how to destruct these crops at this time of year. There are a couple of options all which have pros and cons to them;

1. Glyphosate – most crops will receive an application of a glyphosate product to destroy the standing crop. This will kill all plants growing in the field and leave the field relatively to cultivate whether that is a plough system or reduced cultivation system. However if there are volunteer cereals in the crop and the plan is to grow spring barley then the crop would need to be destructed 6-8 weeks before drilling to help to prevent direct BYDV transmission if there are aphids present. So if a grower intends to drill crops in mid-March then the latest the crops should be burned off is the end of January.

2. Graze – more and more farmers are grazing catch crops as a means of destructing them which reduces the need for glyphosate applications in many cases. Grazing will also recycle the nutrients into the soil more quickly than if the crops are left standing especially if the catch crop is getting stemmy. The main problems with grazing catch crops is firstly the requirement to fence the ground and secondly the potential for soil damage if the soil conditions are wet.

3. Drill into catch crops - many growers using reduced cultivation systems are drilling directly into cover crops and then burning the crop with glyphosate. There are benefits to this type of approach particularly when it comes to cultivation costs. However there are a couple of things to consider, firstly large cover crops can keep soils more moist for longer and so can delay drilling in the spring. Secondly if there are barley volunteers in the crops then the following spring barley crops are at a higher risk of BYDV infection.

4. Rolling – rolling crops in frosty conditions can sometimes give good control of large canopy catch crops. The idea is that plant cells are frozen and by rolling you effectively break these plant cells open and the roller thereby killing the plants. This is a non-chemical method of destroying the crop but it relies on frosty conditions at a time when soil conditions may not be entirely suitable to travel on. Also as this means working in early mornings for the most part the capacity to cover a large area will depend on the size of the roller available.

National Tillage Conference

The first part of the National tillage conference, which took place today, focussed on managing fertiliser applications for crops this spring given the significant price hikes we have seen in fertiliser costs this season. The proceedings from the conference can be accessed shortly on the following link: Teagasc Tillage Events

Tillage Edge Podcast

On this week’s Tillage Edge Podcast Michael Hennessy chats to John Mahon who has been working in various roles in Irish agriculture over the past thirty years and John gives his perspective of conservation agriculture and grass weed control as it stands in the industry today. Have a listen below:

For more episodes and information go to the Tillage Edge podcast show page.

Find out more information and advice from the Teagasc Crops team here. 

The Teagasc Crops Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to tillage farmers every Thursday on Teagasc Daily