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Tillage Update - 26th August 2021

In this week's crops update, Michael Hennessy, Head of Crops KT gives an update on harvesting. He also discusses soil sampling, the rising costs of fertilisers, planting oilseed rape, and starting to plan for next year.


Harvest continues at pace this week. Almost all crops are ripe with the exception of spring wheat and beans. Although some of these earlier sown crops are getting close to harvest. Its unusual for high yields and high prices to coincide in the same year and thankfully this is one of those years. Yields continue to impress across the country with almost all winter wheats yielding over 9.9 t/ha (4/ac), with farm averages close to 11.1t/ha (4.5 t/ac) which is reasonably common. A similar story with spring barely with most crops yielding over 7.5 t/ha (3 t/ha) and farm acreages closer to 8.6 t/ha (3.5/tac). It’s a similar scenario with almost all other crops.

This week will give an excellent opportunity to bale and remove straw from fields. Demand continues to hold very strong for straw across the country. Prices are running a little more than normal but no more than last year which has 30% less straw available due to poor crops.

Soil sampling and rising costs of fertilisers

Its an ideal time to soil samples to establish either the existing level of soil nutrients or to look at the soil nutrient trend in the field.  Comparing the last sample, generally taken about 4 years ago, and taking into account the application of nutrients (chemical and organic) and also the yields of grain and straw off-takes from the field will all give you very solid information if the area is getting enough nutrients, building nutrients or drawing down nutrients from the soil bank. Modifying practice for the next few years may be necessary to get/keeping all soils at index 3 level for P and K. Chat to your local advisor about the results and the actions necessary for the next number of years.

The costs of nutrients has exploded over the past six months and many growers are looking at how necessary these inputs are. I believe some farmers are talking about a P &K holiday. This may be appropriate if your soils are in high index 3 or index 4 but in index 1 or 2 this is not an option. Also we must consider the level of offtake this year considering the high yields. For instance a crop of winter wheat (with the straw removed) at say 11.1t/ha (4.5t/ac) will remove 42 kg/ha P (34 units/ac) and 108 kg/ha K (86 units/ac).  This does not account for build up of P and K in the soils. In this weeks podcast Shay Phelan, Tillage Specialist, chats to Mark Plunkett, a Soils and Nutrition specialist, about the rise in fertiliser prices and where organic manure can fit in to tillage systems.

Oilseed Rape

Prioritise planting oilseed rape in the coming days to ensure a healthy plant come winter. A good start will help the plant to fend off pest (beetles, slugs, birds) attack and compete with weeds thus ensuring a good plant stand early next year. Oilseed rape sown after the first week in September needs everything go its way in terms of good growing conditions through September and October and possibly into November. Soils are quite moist below the surface however will dry quickly in the conditions we are experiencing this week. Consolidation of the seedbed (whether min-till or plough) is essential to ensure good seed to soil contact. Also beware of really dry seedbeds of you choose to apply a pre-emergence herbicide.

Planning for 2022

As harvest rolls through planning for next year starts. As mentioned above knowing your soil results dictates fertiliser requirements.  Some of which may need to be applied before September 15th, if these are to be applied this year. Ordering and getting seed delivered early is essential to ensure you plant the variety you want and when you want it planted.