The end of the 2022 cropping year brings into sharp focus the challenge posed by Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) and its specific impact on winter barley crops.

In the latest Tillage Edge podcast specialist Shay Phelan points to the fact that a lot of the poor 2021/22 barleys were sown very early.

Addressing the issue on the podcast the tillage specialist also highlighted that some of these crops also got disease at the back end of last year.

BYDV challenges

Phelan said: “There was mildew in some of those crops. So, coming into the early spring they thinned out and lost tillers.

“Winter barley needs nitrogen at the end of tillering. And, in some cases, farmers were late in getting out the first spit of fertiliser.

“This meant that some crops went a little bit hungry. So, it was at this stage that they started to lose yield potential. And’ it’s impossible to get it back.”

The Teagasc crops specalist said that BYDV also had a major impact on crop performance.

“A lot of September-sown crops in the south were pretty badly affected by the virus.

“We could see the impact this activity actually had as early as April of this year. This then followed all the way through. Quite a lot of those crops were subsequently impacted by ramularia.

“So, in reality, we are talking about the cumulative impact of three factors when it came to discerning the reasons why final yields were disappointingly low in a significant number of 2021/22 barley crops,” Phelan added.

However, as the Teagasc specialist explained large numbers of winter barleys, that were not impacted by BYDV, also performed extremely well last year.  These included later sown crops and those that received their first split of nitrogen on time.

It is generally accepted that the moisture available to crops in the spring helped crops to grow on, once the very dry and hot summer weather arrived.

Looking back one other member of Teagasc’s crop specialist team, Ciaran Collins, said that crops were well established once the hot, dry weather arrived in Ireland this summer and that was a huge factor in 2022.

“May, for example, was a particularly dry month. But come that stage of the year, there was already enough moisture in the ground to keep crops ticking over.

“However June was a not a dry month. Figures from Oak Park would indicate that rainfall levels for that period were greater than the long term average.

“So, rain just came on time in order to keep crops going,” Collins added.

He said the subsequent dry harvest helped to deliver a bonus for tillage farmers, many of whom had battled BYDV, as this gave growers to the opportunity “to get crops harvest on time.”

On the latest Tillage Edge podcast the subject of beans – a crop that develops a little later in the season – was highlighted as one crop that did suffer from the impact of drought this year.

According to Collins the south east region and areas like Carlow and Kildare had particular difficulties on this front.

“Moisture deficits were an issue with beans in affected areas with final yields coming in at around 2t/ac.

“But, in total contrast, crops of beans grown in other parts of the country did exceptionally well.

“There was up to 3t/ac cut in a lot of places,” he added.

According to latest estimates 2022 was a very positive year for oilseed rape crops. Yields were particularly strong in most parts of the country.

Phelan said on the whole most rape growers “were very happy with the outcome of the 2022 harvest.”

He said: “Yields were excellent with many growers getting up to 5t/ha.

“The other point worth making is that a lot of these crops were grown with a lot less nitrogen than would have been used heretofore.

“This is because crops came through the winter very well. There was very little pigeon grazing, for example.”

But it was far from a rosy picture across the country will some crops such as oilseed struggling in certain areas.

According to Phelan the key reason behind this can now be explained as club root.

“It was an issue last year. And it has grown in prominence in 2022/23. Given the increase in area of oilseed rape that has gone in this year, club root is a factor that growers will have to be much more aware of,” he said.

Phelan said that developing effective crop rotations is the most effective way of coping with the challenge that club root now constitutes.

A lot of brassicas now in the ground are cover mixes used by cereal growers.  

He added: “Quite a number of cereal growers have includes brassica species in cover crops that are grazed during the winter months.

“So the club root threat is one that growers should be much more aware of over the coming years.”

Another tillage-related challenge that continues to build momentum across the country according to the podcast is the threat of grass weeds to cereal yields.

Although one very obvious benefit of the Enable Conservation Tillage (ECT) programme has been its focus on the threat posed by grass weeds.

The Teagasc crop specialist outlined: “Traditionally, we would have been looking at wild oats, and maybe a bit of sterile brome.

“But now we are seeing the likes of blackgrass, rat’s tail fescue and Italian ryegrass becoming a problem.”

He believes both farmers and agronomists are very aware of the challenges posed by these grass weeds.

Phelan said:

“It’s time we realised that some of the old management strategies practised are no longer fit for purpose. This includes the continuing of older chemistries on a routine basis.

“Poor rotations are also adding to the problem. Issues of this nature are actually exaggerating the problem.

“Again, we have to be very careful, going forward.  Growers must be more aware of issues that are developing on farm.”

There is also the problem of stubble cultivations according to his Teagasc colleague Collins who said there is a significant level of confusion about this issue.

He said growers are currently trying to ascertain what needs to be done and when the work needs to be done by.

Collins added: “The favourable weather directly after harvest also played a key part in the way that matters evolved.

“And, as it turned out, most farmers got the work that was required completed. But the new regulations did create an extra level of work.

“There were also additional costs incurred on the part of growers. “

Colin’s said the ultimate aim should be to get a new crop in “as quickly as possible, in order to mop up residual nitrogen in the soil”.

“There’s little doubt that the new measures did create a lot of extra work for growers,” he said.