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Tillage Update 24th March 2022

Tillage Update 24th March 2022

The launch of the Tillage Incentive Scheme by the Department of Agriculture this week has to be welcomed by the tillage industry. Michael Hennessy, Head of Crops KT, Teagasc discusses the opportunities it brings for tillage and grassland farmers and provides advice on converting grassland to tillage

The launch of the Tillage Incentive Scheme by the Department of Agriculture this week has to be welcomed by the tillage industry.   The primary aim of the scheme is to increase the amount of grain or forage grown in the country.   Many will argue this is not particularly a beneficial scheme for specialist tillage farmers, as a farmer will only get paid if grassland is ploughed up and the area of tillage crops increases on the farm.   Although very specialist tillage farmers may not have much grass there are quite a substantial proportion of farmers that have tillage and grassland and may be in a position to plough more area. 

There may also be an opportunity for specialist tillage farmers to work closely with a grassland farm to plant and harvest their crops.   This may be more advantageous for the tillage farmer allowing the grassland farm to shoulder the risks/rewards of growing the crop.  However the grassland farmer will rely on the expertise of the specialist tillage farmer to help achieve high yields and thus profitability.

Other possibilities to increase specialist tillage farmers area include short-term rent or long-term lease but there is also an option for share farming which might suit all parties.   Teagasc have some very good resources on our website for all of these areas.   See here for long term lease  and here for share farming.

Converting grassland to tillage crops

When converting grassland to tillage the first place to start is to see if seed, fertiliser and other inputs will be available and for farms in an area with little tillage, is there a combine available to harvest the crop?.   A careful budget needs to be completed to ensure profitability can be achieved on the land.   Due to the costs of growing any tillage crop unfortunately there are no shortcuts when growing tillage crops.   The only way to make any money is to strive for high yields of both grain and straw.   This is true whether the crop is grown for whole cropping or going all the way to harvest.  

The next area to look at is the soil pH.   This is extremely important as most tillage crops especially barley will not tolerate a low pH soil.   Where pH is below 6 and certainly below 5.8 this field is probably not suitable for barley but more suitable to oats, even if lime will be applied to the ploughed ground and tilled in.   Aim for a soil pH of at least 6.5 for spring barley .  Similarly other crops such as maize will also do best with higher pH i.e. >6.3.    It may be too late to get a soil test but if you are quick off the mark there may be a good chance you could have the results back by early next week.   Where that option is not available look at the previous soil test from your grassland and adjust the recommendations for lime and P&K to reflect the tillage crop grown.

Where the P&K are low in the field we strongly recommend applying the P&K with the seed (down the spout!).   This will help establishment of the crop and put it on a good footing for the season.

Finally preparing an excellent seedbed will be the foundation for a high yield.  Aim for a fine seedbed and also ensure the seedbed is consolidated ( but not compacted)  to help rooting but also to prevent pests attack such as slugs, wireworm and leatherjackets.   Plant a high seed rate in all of these situations, which for spring barley will equate to  a target of 350 plants per metre squared  or a seed rate of at least 180kg/ha ( or close to 12 st/ac) 

Utilise organic manure

An excellent way to reduce your fertiliser costs is to utilise organic manure on your farm. Cattle slurry is extremely valuable now with 1000 gallons equivalent to a bag of 9-5-32. Pig slurry will be slightly different with a typical value of available nutrients of  around 14-5-15.  However for all slurries the amount of nutrients is determined by the dry matter content of the slurry. Measurement with hydrometer is recommended in all cases and incorporating into the soil as quickly as possible to prevent N loses.     

The Tillage Edge podcast

Tune into the Tillage Edge podcast for an interview with Tom Barry, a farmer in Cork, who is using pig slurry on his farm for the past 20 years.  Tom is now applying  the slurry directly onto growing crops and is achieving a much higher utilisation from the slurry.

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.  Find your local Teagasc office here