With fast-improving soil conditions as a result of the recent good weather, many tillage farmers may push to plant winter barley and wheat soon.
However, according to Teagasc, early planting of winter cereal comes with a risk.
Drilling winter wheat and barley early generally ensures good seedbeds and favorable temperatures during germination, leading to higher establishment rates.
However, there is an increased threat from take-all, foliar diseases, lodging, grass weeds, and Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV).
Early sown crops
Early sown crops are at the highest risk from BYDV and yield reductions of 3.7t/ha have been recorded in Teagasc winter barley experiments.
The risk increases when early sowing is combined with a coastal location and a mild autumn/winter, as the aphid migration period and overwintering risk both increase.
Avoiding the key germination period is a key Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technique. The key germination period for sterile brome and blackgrass is September and tapers off as sowing moves into October.
Winter barley should be avoided, as there are no reliable chemical control options.
Teagasc is also highlighting the vagaries of the Irish weather and its impact on the tillage sector.
In essence, the stark contrast between the relatively low input, high output harvest of 2022 and the high-input reduced-output one in 2023 emphasizes the vulnerability of tillage farmer income.
Reducing risk is critical for 2024. Growing crops for high-value markets and those that follow the soil type on farm makes sense.
But one of the key ways to reduce risk on tillage farms is to have a spread of crops.
Growers should make cropping decisions based on long-term yield averages rather than reacting to the previous harvest.
Ireland had a derogation from crop diversification (two/three crop rule) in 2023 but growers should work on the basis that it will be in force for 2024.
Crop rotation is a new element for tillage farmers.
This measure requires that holdings with an arable area equal to or greater than 10ha must implement a crop rotation that requires at least two different crops to be grown at parcel level over a four-year cycle.
This is the first year of the reference period (2023-2026) for crop rotation requirements.
There must be at least two different crops within an arable parcel over the period 2023-2026 inclusive.
An alternative to crop rotation and crop diversification involving catch/cover crops is also available.