Teagasc’s third crop report for 2023 has highlighted the recent fall in grain prices and the implications for cereal growing.

According to the ‘Costs and Returns’ booklet, break-even yields for winter wheat, winter barley and winter oats were 9.2t/ha, 8.6t/ha and 7.6t/ha respectively.

However based on the latest grain prices and the increase in many popular pesticide-related costs, the likelihood is that these will – in effect – be somewhat higher.

Crops grown on leased or rented land are at even greater risk. 

Crop report

According to Teagasc tillage specialists, the dry weather and good soil conditions of late February and early March has resulted in an early start to the planting of spring cereals this year.

The majority of spring oats and spring wheat (including some winter varieties) are planted, while a start has been made with spring barley. Most of the spring barley planted to date is on dry, free-draining land that would not normally be subject to flooding. 

The area planted to spring barley in 2021 and 2022 was 116,000ha. However, a significant increase is expected in 2023 due to the reduced area planted last autumn.

Whether the area reaches the 1400,000ha planted in 2020 is dependent on land availability and the success of the Tillage Incentive Scheme (TIS) which is available to growers again in 2023.

Many farmers, particularly in the southern half of the country made a conscious decision to switch from winter barley to spring barley for 2023 following the record yields of the previous harvests and issues with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) in winter barley last year.  

Winter barley

Despite difficult weather conditions, winter barley crops have come through the winter reasonably well and plant counts are on target in most (not all) crops, according to the crop report.

Early planted crops are at growth stage (GS) 30. However, the majority are still a week or more away. Disease levels are low and only reports are some rhyncosporium in Cassia and low levels of septoria nodorum in Tardis.

Most crops have received the first split of nitrogen (N) along with phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) and have sufficient nitrogen to support growth until the main split later in the month.

However, broadleaf weed control tidy-up and wild oat control has been delayed due to cold weather conditions and will be a priority as soon as weather conditions allow to reduce crop competition.

Tank mixes will become complicated once we reach the timing for early disease control and plant growth regulation where required. The advice always is to separate these tasks to avoid crop damage.

Winter wheat

Most crops, except for those that were late drilled, are now approaching GS30 and so the first application of fertiliser is due, which will be followed shortly after that with a plant growth regulator (PGR) and possibly a herbicide.

With wheat prices currently in the region of €220-230/t, growers and agronomists should be planning the most cost-effective strategies for inputs this spring.

The Teagasc ‘Costs and Returns’ 2023 booklet predicted that a 9.2t/ha crop is needed to break-even in 2023, however this was against a backdrop of a grain price at €250/t and pesticide prices increasing by 10% over 2022 prices.

The reality now looks like that grain prices will be lower at harvest and some pesticide prices have increased by more than 10%. This will mean that the break-even yield for winter wheat crops, on owned land, is likely to be somewhat higher than 9.2t/ha predicted back in January.  

Winter oilseed rape and spring beans

According to Teagasc, most crops are now at green bud stage with an average canopy Green Area Index (GAI) of approximately 1.75 – 2.25.

Pigeon grazing has only been reported in very backward crops. The main split of nitrogen is now due on most crops while fungicides for light leaf spot have already been applied at this stage.

Meanwhile, an increase in the protein payment and favourable planting weather in February and early March has led to an increase in the area of beans this season.

Reports from the seed trade indicate that the area planted is in the region of 14,000-15,000ha. However, the actual figure may be higher when home saved seed is taken into account. 

Some growers held off planting where drills capable of planting seed at depth were not available, and will plant from now on when the threat from crows is lower.

Teagasc research indicates that, on average, there is little yield difference between February and March planting, but planting in April increased risk of a lower yield.

Pre-emergence weed control is the only realistic option and needs to be completed within 48 hours of planting as soil temperatures increase and seed depth is reduced.

Pendimethalin-based products have increased substantially in cost and many growers are choosing to use mixes with Defy to reduce costs.

Crop report on winter oats

According to Teagasc, winter oat crops have grown well over the past months, despite many having been sown in less than ideal circumstances.

Most crops are now approaching GS30. Shortly thereafter, they should be sprayed with a plant growth regulator and a herbicide to tidy up weeds.