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Weather: The Irish Advantage!

It’s not often that we hear praise for the Irish weather, but it is our climate which gives us a competitive edge in crop production.  That was one of the messages for farmers attending the Teagasc Crops Open Day at Oak Park, Carlow today, Thursday 23 June.  The latest research and technology in crop production was presented at the open day with researchers and specialists outlining trial results against a backdrop of a 10,000 plot research programme at Oak Park.

Drought and extreme weather conditions in many parts of the world, is impacting on world grain markets with expected shortcomings in harvest. While some Irish crops will be affected by low rainfall, overall the 2011 yield potential for Irish cereal crops looks quite good, according to John Spink, Head of Crop Science in Teagasc. 

“The volatility in crop markets is swinging in Irish growers favour this year, but technical production efficiency is essential to ensure survival in times of huge price variability”, according to John Spink.  The Teagasc crops programme at Oak Park is focused on yield, quality and cost reduction. 

The favourable crop growing conditions in Ireland brings with it the risk of fungal diseases which is a major focus of Teagasc research.  The disease causing pathogens are continually evolving and can become less sensitive to the fungicides applied for disease control.  At Oak Park genetic changes in fungal populations are continually monitored by plant pathologist Steven Kildea, and the performance of new products and new disease control strategies is assessed in an effort to win the battle against rapidly developing pathogens.  The search for more robust disease resistance strains of cereals is another strategy been given a new lease of life by the use of molecular techniques.  This offers scope for future production being based on varieties, specifically developed for the challenging Irish weather conditions.

The cost of fertilizers and the need to avoid excess nutrients reaching our water supplies, would benefit from a more accurate prediction of a crop’s nitrogen (N) needs.  Richie Hackett is leading a programme aiming to predict the optimum N fertilizer for both wheat and barley crops more accurately. In addition to cost and environmental advantages, in the future, this work will help growers reach the target protein requirements for specific markets such as malting barley.

While minimum tillage has failed to excite growers in Ireland, the system does have some benefits in terms of work rate and energy costs. Establishment in wet autumns and grass weed control problems are limiting factors currently.  The general need to protect the soil from damage caused by machinery was stressed by Dermot Forristal, who showed that even with large tyres, the axle loads of today’s high powered tractors are capable of damaging soil structure.  Lower ground pressure and avoiding work in moist conditions are critical to prevent damage to the grower’s most basic resource.