This will go down in history as one of the easiest harvests in recent memory


This will go down in history as one of the easiest harvests in recent memory. Wet weather has hardly stopped in the past few weeks. Farmers are also thankful that the grain has a low moisture content, although many farmers are likely to receive too much grain with a moisture content of less than 15%. Grain quality appears to be excellent and looks like the straw is being collected quickly.

Although some incredible yields from both winter wheat and spring barley are reported on many farms, these high yields are not universal. There may be many reasons for the lower returns, but first, what factors go into achieving high returns?

I will look at wheat but the factors are similar for barley. The highest yields are obtained from the following: moisture retaining, healthy soil, a first wheat in the crop rotation, a high yielding variety with an even crop, no poor/wet areas and of course adequate nutrients, with good pest/disease control.

Nice to have, especially for wheat, is healthy soil with good organic matter, with some fresh organic matter being added year after year. The final piece of the puzzle is adequate rain and sun exposure.

It’s worth looking at the weather so far this year and how it may have affected yields. Data from (Oak Park, Carlow) raises some interesting comparisons. Solar radiation in 2022 was 6 percent lower than the previous three years and 11 percent lower than 2021. Rainfall to date has been much less in 2022 compared to the long-term average (LTA).

In Oak Park, rainfall in the critical month of April was 77 percent of the LTA, May was 60 percent of the LTA, but June was 103 percent of the LTA, but most of that rain in June fell towards the end of the month. This was combined with average May air temperatures of 1.6°C above the LTA and ground temperatures also 1.6°C above the LTA.

All in all, Carlow was less sunny but drier and warmer than average during the critical growing season, but particularly in May. So if a plant was grown on lighter soil, it was likely lacking moisture, reducing yields. Early sown winter wheat/barley had an increased risk of taking everything due to the warm soils in spring and lack of moisture, with some also suffering from BYDV.

What’s the take-home message here? A farmer cannot change the weather, but crucial factors in laying the foundation for high yields next year will be the choice of crops, the rotation position of those crops and the timing of planting. All of these factors are largely within the control of the farmer.

Planning for next year is difficult as all prices are rising, but fertilizer and grain prices in particular continue to fall. Based on Teagasc’s finalized crop margins, a crop price of €250/t for grain in 2023 is required to leave tillage farmers (on their own land) a margin. At this point, farmers will be looking to autumn with a mixture of optimism (based on some of this year’s yields) and also fear.

Some of this uncertainty can be taken out of the system by both buying forward some fertilizers and selling grain forward. Both are important elements that contribute to the final gross margin. Despite the nice weather, take some time to work out your budget for next year before you start growing anything.

Canola is a crop that many growers should be considering for 2023. Yields this year have been well above average after an excellent year of growth. Varieties have improved significantly over the past 10 years, with breeders showing traits such as high disease and virus resistance and, importantly, resistance to pod breakage.

Growers this year took advantage of fall growth and significantly reduced nitrogen supplies in spring (by 50 percent in many cases) while still achieving high yields.

Planning for oilseed rape generally starts with planting winter barley as a gateway crop, but as the harvest will be complete early this year, more fields (e.g. spring barley) will be opened up for planting. The key to high yields is getting an even crop across the field and ideally coming out of spring with good soil cover or a Green Area Index (GAI) of 1.5+, which reduces spring nitrogen loading.

Early planting increases the chances of achieving a higher GAI in spring. Last year we had a near perfect rear end for growth which allowed plants sown in early September to develop good leaf cover for the winter. However, in years when September and October are cool, plants planted in September can establish poorly and be more susceptible to weed control problems and bird infestation.

If you’re growing canola for the next few weeks, be sure to check your soil samples and apply some P and K to help the crop establish itself. Compensation can be applied in the spring. In an Index 3 soil (maintenance fertilization) the crop needs 35 kg/ha of phosphorus and 75 kg/ha of potassium.

Stubble cultivation is necessary for most farmers this year when the field is destined for spring sowing. It is necessary to leave between 20 and 25 percent of the total crop area vacant for bird feeding, so keep that in mind too.

Where the field is destined for a winter crop, there is no need for post-harvest cultivation. However, if you have sterile or large brome in the field, growing as soon as possible after harvest will encourage those seeds to chitten, thus reducing the weed bank for the next crop. Ask your advisor about the exact requirements on your farm.

Michael Hennessy is Head of Crop Knowledge at Teagasc, Oak Park This will go down in history as one of the easiest harvests in recent memory

Fry Electronics Team

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