Tillage focus: Balancing cereal and milk production perfectly in Co. Wexford

Joe Doyle isn’t your average tillage farmer; he installed a robot on his farm in 2014. The land on Joe’s Castledockerell-based holding isn’t stony and the robot wasn’t bought to pick stones.

Instead it was purchased to milk cows. Four years down the road, he now plans to purchase a second robot. Joe is very happy with how the robot is working out. It fits in well with his tillage enterprise. Silage is given every second day or so and meal is fed through the robot. The cows are bedded daily. During the grazing season the cows make their way into the robot. He stated that – even during the harvest time – there is never an issue.

It definitely works well with tillage.

“I’ll be a lot happier when the second one is in. If anything happens – which it hasn’t in over a year – there isn’t as much of a rush to get this one up and running again.

“The cows are all on straw. We thought about getting cubicles, but we’ve the straw and we want the dung. They’re very relaxed on the straw.”

Sourcing stock

Joe bought 40 cows from Ciaran McCabe in Co. Waterford when he started milking and acknowledges that Ciaran thought him a lot. Joe has built up numbers over the years and hopes to milk 80 cows this year. He plans to buy all of his replacement animals.

“It wouldn’t pay us to rear our own heifers because we’d be taking more tillage ground and putting it into grassland. So, for the time being we won’t. What we’re doing at the minute is working well and we’re not going to change it.

Joe stated that he thinks being a technically-minded tillage farmer has helped with the running of the machine.

“Donohues [Lely Center Enniscorthy] are absolutely brilliant. It’s serviced once a year and if you’re in any way technically minded, which tillage farmers tend to be, you will fix 99% of anything that goes wrong yourself.”

Joe sells all of the calves and is happy with how they’ve done in the mart in the past few weeks.

Tillage on tracks

When AgriLand called during the week, Joe and his nephew Conor were heading out to plough at the foot of Mount Leinster. Joe sows about 360ac. The main crop is spring malting barley, which is grown for Boortmalt. Temporary grass and oats make up the remainder of the acreage.

“The majority of the acreage is under spring barley. Our second crop is grass and our third crop is oats. However, our third crop will be arable silage this year. We’re going to sow lucerne as part of the arable silage.

“We do everything ourselves. We bought a Caterpillar last year and there’s no compaction in the field at all. We pulled the drill with it last year. This year, we’ll have the press on it to get in on the ploughed ground earlier because it doesn’t leave tracks.”

Agricultural Catchments Programme

Joe was very proud to say that he joined the Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP) nine years ago. Teagasc measures water quality from three wells on the farm each month – at depths between 1m and 52m. The soil is also sampled every two years.

“It’s definitely changed the way we farm, there’s no doubt about it. It’s all been positive in this area. I think it made people respect the importance of soil sampling.

Joe acknowledged that when he heard about water quality before it wasn’t on his priority of reading material. However, when he joined the ACP and saw how the water quality affects the insects in the river; the environment around him; how he can save money; and improve soil fertility, he began to take notice.

You can’t control the price of barley, but you can control how much fertiliser you use.

“One thing we would have been doing, like a lot of other people, was applying three bags of 18:6:12 or a standard compound like that.

“We’re saving on our fertiliser. To make a profit we have to. We’re putting out less, but we’re putting out a better combination.

Soils do change and there’s a change in the samples every two years. They are improving, it’s a slow process. If you’re down at index two, it’s hard to get up to index three.

Looking down on Joe Doyle’s farm just outside Castledockerell in Co. Wexford

Soil indices improving

Joe is seeing a slow increase in his soil phosphorus and potassium indices, which were low. He said that this is improving his yields.

“Indices are coming up. We’re only using what the soil needs. Our yields are going up. We’re definitely getting a better return from the fertiliser that we’re putting out.

Our phosphorus levels would have been low. They’re coming up. We’ve been applying pig slurry and our yields have come up in the last six or seven years.

“Potassium levels would have been high, but we kind of took our eye off of them a bit. This year, we’re going to work a system that for every 100 units of nitrogen that we put out, we’ll put out 80 units of potassium (K).

“We’re also going to do something we haven’t done before. We’re going to top-dress this year with maybe 20:0:15. The K makes the nitrogen work a lot better. As soon as we see the tramlines this year, we’ll go out with that and – a week later – we’ll top up the nitrogen with Sulfa CAN or a similar product.”

Catch crops

Joe has been getting on well with the catch crops he’s sown for GLAS and plans to increase the acreage he’s sowing in the coming years.

It’s definitely a positive. We sowed enough for GLAS, but the day will come when we’ll sow all of the tillage ground with green cover. Spring barley only grows for four months of the year and the ground is bare the rest of the time.