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Tillage Update - 3rd September

Tillage Update - 3rd September

Michael Hennessy, Head of Crops KT Teagasc gives an update on the harvest; outlines the importance of sowing cover crops and oilseed rape soon and gives an insight into this year's National Crops Forum. Listen to the latest episode of the Tillage Edge focusing on soil fertility and soil sampling.

Harvest commentary

Substantial progress has been made in the harvest over the past 3 to 4 days. The rain yesterday held up progress however the forecast looks promising to complete the remaining over the next week or so. Reports from around the country suggest it's generally the larger growers who have substantial areas still to complete however there is still a good share of straw left to be baled in various parts of the country.

Reports of yields continue to vary quite widely, from field to field and also between regions. Despite the poor weather in the south of the country, where crops were most affected, these crops are being harvested with some losses but not as bad as feared. The loss of grain weight (kph) appears to account for the major loss of yield in fields. Losses of between 0.6-1.25 tonnes per hectare are being reported.   

Harvest of spring wheat and spring beans have scarcely started and it look like it will be mid- week before substantial progress will be made in these crops. Initial yield reports of spring beans, from the Cork, are extremely good with yield with over 7.5 tons per hectare being reported.  

Cover Crops

As the harvest winds up over the next week or so, attention for farmers in GLAS quickly turns to planting their cover crop requirements. The deadline to get these crops planted is September the 15th. The earlier these crops are planted the increased benefits will accrue from these crops. Earlier planting will result in larger plants and more dry matter per hectare thus adding soil organic matter (carbon) to the soils, if only a little each year.  

The cover crops must contain a mixture of at least 2 species and remain in the ground until December the 1st. Growers should be very conscious of the overall farm rotation and avoid cover crops which could interfere with this rotation. For instance, where there is oilseed rape in the rotation avoid other brassica cover crops such as leafy turnip, tillage radish, mustard, etc. In this situation choosing other crops such as oats and vetches or phacelia plus vetches will avoid any rotational conflicts. However these crops will add to the costs compared to brassica options. 

Oilseed rape

The time for planting oilseed rape is running out fast. Ideally oilseed rape should be sown by late August. This gives the crop time to accumulate sufficient growth to withstand pressures over the winter such as pigeon attack. Planting oilseed rape past the mid September or possibly a little earlier substantially increases the risk of small and weak plants going into the winter. These small plants are very susceptible to destructive grazing by pigeons and also do not compete well against weeds. September sown rape relies heavily on an excellent growing season throughout September into October and beyond. It also relies on an excellent growing season from February onwards, in other words everything needs to go be in the crops favour for a reasonable yielding crop.

That being said there is still a small window to plant and growers who have oilseed rape in their rotation should make every effort to plant the crop in the coming days. Planting directly into the stubble without the need for a plough till and sow is a realistic option. Most direct drill methods use wide spacing and trials from Oak Park show these crops yield the same as conventionally sown crops. The advantage of direct drill methods are that it can be quite quick and efficient to complete (generally by a contractor) and it can be completed while the rest of the harvest is being finished.  However a little caution is needed especially now that soils are getting wetter. Ensure there is sufficient tilth for the oilseed rape to germinate and keep and eye for slug grazing, right from planting. Slug grazing can be more pronounced when using these direct drill methods.

Soil Sampling  

The Tillage Edge Podcast discusses soil fertility and soil sampling this week. Over 50% of tillage soils have low soil fertility (index 1 and 2).  Without a current soil sample will under fertilise these fields and compromise yields.   

Lime is the most import part of soil fertility and will aid or hinder the uptake of all nutrients. Due to crop yield, rainfall and chemical fertiliser input soils need about 4-7 tonnes per hectare of lime every 5 years. Veronica Nyham, Teagasc emphasised the importance of mapping fields before soil sampling to take account of soil variability. Teagasc are available to take the soil sample through our soil sampler service and then create a Nutrient Management Plan when the results are available.

National Crops Forum 

Finally, this year's National Crops Forum takes place virtually through Zoom on Thursday September 10th and 17th between 6.30-7.30pm on both evenings. Topics like varieties, BYDV, Green Deal and recommendations for the development of the tillage sector and more will be discussed.