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Large swings in Tillage areas Farmers react to challenging weather and forage crisis

Farmers across the country have been forced to adjust their cropping plans this year due to the poor weather in the autumn and the subsequent poor weather in the spring. To add to these difficulties almost all spring crops are planted between one and two months later than normal.

“Even the longest serving tillage farmers admit to not experiencing such a late and difficult planting season in their lifetimes,” according to Ciaran Collins, Tillage Specialist with Teagasc.  “Teagasc are working hard with farmers and the industry developing agronomic strategies to maximise crop potential of these late sown crops,” Ciaran added.

 Preliminary results from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine in the past few days, indicate a 5% decrease in the main tillage crops sown this year compared to 2017.   Crops with the largest decreases in area include; winter wheat (-11%), winter barley (-13%) and winter oats (-30%).  This reflects the poor weather from September right through to December last year.  The area of many spring crops has also decreased with spring wheat (-47%), spring oats (-22%), protein crops (-38%) and potatoes (-14%) the worst affected.  All of these crops ideally should be sown from February to late March to maximise profitability.

 Many farmers could not plant during this period and were forced to change to other crops.  Increases were seen in the area planted with spring barley (+7%), maize (+40%) and beet (+9%).  None of these crops were sown on time; therefore yield expectations will be lower. “There are huge knock on effects, with lower yields expected to result in poor profitability for most crops.  We also expect a later harvest which may affect planting of 2019 crops.  The only bright spot is the winter planted crops grew well and the yield potential looks good so far this year,” said Ciaran Collins.

The increased plantings of forage crops (beet and maize) were a direct response to the forage needs locally of livestock farmers.  Similar to other tillage crops, the forage crops were planted later than normal which will also impact on yield.

The volumes of straw likely to be available in 2018 are estimated to be less than 2017, due to a lower area of winter cereals and lower than normal volumes from late sown spring cereals.  The straw market was buoyant all through 2018 and is likely to remain so for the rest of the year.  “Later sown crops have a lower root mass resulting in the plant being less resilient to stress such as hot weather, or drought, during the rapid growth and grain filling phase,” according to Michael Hennessy, Head of Crops Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc.  “Livestock farmers should talk to their straw supplier early this year as spot buying could be very difficult in 2018”, he added.

Later sown crops will produce leaves and develop faster than earlier sown crops therefore management of these crops needs to be very accurate to maximise potential.  Teagasc have technical notes available to farmers and the industry to help growers pre-empt potential problems.  These management notes address pest control, nutrient management and disease control and are available at https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/crops/cereal-crops/spring-cereals/