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Tillage Update July 30th

In this week’s Tillage Update, Michael Hennessy gives an update on the impact of current weather conditions on harvesting and crop yields. Issues with securing straw are identified and the issue of secondary growth in spring crop is highlighted.

Poor weather has all but ground the harvest to a halt. However a little grain was harvested in the south earlier in the week. There are now quite a few crops waiting to be harvested including the last of the winter barley, some winter oats and oilseed rape.  Crops harvested over the past week have continued to be very disappointing.  Reports from the North East are very worrying with yields of winter barley well below 7 tons per hectare on many farms.

Straw volumes are also disappointing with 50% or less of normal volumes being harvested.  To add to this most of the straw is still on the ground and with no prospects of good weather in the coming days it's likely this straw will not be baled anytime soon.

The straw market is starting to wake up to the fact there is much less straw available and securing straw may be more difficult this year.  Farmers are reporting increased straw prices this week. The increased straw price will not make up for the lack of volume nor will it make-up for the lack of grain.  2020 is the first year since 2009 where very low yields will align with lowish prices and this will result in a very poor income year for almost all tillage farmers.

Another issue which has become very apparent in spring crops at the moment is secondary growth or new/green shoots or tillers and the emergence of new weed infestations. Both are happening in the same fields or areas of the field.  The problem is variable from field to field with some very dry fields now full of green tillers/weeds and other fields, which were thin, with green shoots/weeds scathed through the crop.  Most fields have green tramlines also.  Growers should differentiation the type of secondary growth where some shoots are in mid to late grain fill where as others are at flowering with no grain present.

Many growers may be tempted to use a preharvest desiccation (glyphosate) to the entire crop however there are a number of areas where glyphosate should not be used

  • Seed or Malting barley crops
  • crops where straw is destined for the mushroom market
  • use of glyphosate as a harvest aid
  • crops with no weeds

Glyphosate is only cleared for preharvest use in crops to control weeds in the crop. 

Given the different types/density of secondary growth each field should be assessed separately.

The best time to assess these crops is around the time when the main crop is at the correct stage to receive a glyphosate application i.e. 30% MC (when the grain will take and hold a thumb nail indent).

Where the secondary growth is at mid to late grain fill these should grains ripen normally but are likely to delay harvest for 5-7 days later than normal.   Where the secondary growth is only flowering to very early grain fill (little or no grain present) then these grains are unlikely to fill sufficiently and will not contribute to yield.  Consider whole-cropping or avoiding these areas and harvest them later in the year.  Where this is not possible and where weeds control is an issue pre-harvest glyphosate may be the only option. This application may include an overall field application or potentially just spot spraying in particular parts of fields.  Most fields have secondary growth in tramlines and where this is the only problematic area it's unlikely these fields will need additional preharvest management.  Perhaps the more ideal scenario is to exclude these tramlines from the main harvest and cut lasts to contain the problem to the minimum amount of grain.