Tillage focus: Straw yield could drop to 4 bales/ac in the ‘dry’ south-east

2018 has been a very unusual year for Irish farming. The extremely wet spring led to difficult sowing conditions and the recent prolonged spell of dry weather is now resulting in crop stress in those late-sown crops.

Weather woes have hit many farmers. AgriLand traveled to Frank Murphy’s farm near Wellington Bridge in south Wexford this week.

He hasn’t seen rain since the beginning of May and his crops are showing signs of drought stress. This is true in many parts of the country, particularly the south and south-east.

Spring barley is the worst affected crop on Frank’s farm. The Co. Wexford man has won awards for producing high-quality mating barley and management has been carefully watched this year, like any other. However, poor ground conditions delayed sowing of his crop of Olympus until April 30.

AgriLand visited almost six weeks after that date and the barley is less than 1ft in height, with the flag leaf emerging. Another crop (Planet) was sown later, on May 5, and it is approximately 1ft tall; the flag leaf was also out on this crop.

Frank Murphy standing in a crop of Planet spring barley on his farm in Co. Wexford

“Farmyard manure went out on that land and it was sown in exceptionally good conditions; it’s exceptionally dry land and exceptionally good land for barley,” Frank noted.

I think we haven’t had rain since May 4. I sowed this on April 30 and the weather broke that night. It rained heavy that week, but it didn’t rain since.

“The crops are very short and – if we don’t get rain soon – straw yield will be somewhere around four bales per acre. In my opinion, we will only breakeven on our own land.”

Crop management was completed down to a tee. 120 units/ac of nitrogen were applied, the last of this when the tramlines appeared, while herbicide and aphicide were applied early.

Despite this, the hard ground conditions – as a result of quick drying – are holding the crop back from thickening out. In addition, plants are racing through the growth stages.

Frank predicts that yields will be down from 4t/ac to 2t/ac and, as Frank mentioned, straw may be down from 10-11 bales per acre to four bales per acre.

A crop of Olympus spring barley on Frank’s farm

Frank was setting out to apply a fungicide application – Siltra and Bravo – to his spring barley crop the day AgriLand visited. It will only get one fungicide this season.

“If it doesn’t get rain to stretch it, I don’t know what’s going to happen it. I’m just so disappointed with the crop this year,” Frank explained.

“I had it ploughed in March, but I couldn’t get in to sow. I would always tend to plough in December, but with the weather in south Wexford this year I couldn’t.”

Frank stated that he would normally sow around March 11-12, or maybe before it if the weather permitted. Even in a bad year, spring barley would usually be sown before April 1. Last year, Frank had his spring barley sown by March 9.

Beet needs moisture

Frank grows beet and feeds it to his cattle, along with his own silage and barley. Temperatures reached into the high twenties last week and Frank decided to delay spraying his beet crop until temperatures decreased.

“I have beet and it’s okay. I sprayed it yesterday evening, but I couldn’t believe that there are cracks opening up in the clay. The beet is surviving, but it wants rain. It was sown in the middle of April.

“I sprayed it last night. I could have sprayed it earlier, but I was afraid that I’d do harm in the heat. I gave it half of the rate last night and it will get the second half next week. I don’t like going in with a lot of spray at the one time on beet; even if I have to go a third time, I’d prefer to do that than damage the beet.”

Silage and grazing

Frank has noticed a lot of silage fields that were cut early and the grass hasn’t come back yet; the fields are still white.

“Land is just dried out. I have enough grass at the moment. I have some marginal land in grass and I’m getting out at the minute, but it needs rain.

“I have silage in, but I haven’t enough. When I looked at the ground after mowing, I could see the nitrogen that I top-dressed the field with still on the ground. I’ll have to wait until it rains to put out more nitrogen,” he said.