Farmers who fail to use crop rotations could see a negative impact on the profitability and sustainability of their tillage systems, according to Teagasc’s Principal Research Officer Dermot Forristal.

“We need crop rotations for disease break opportunities, weed control, soil fertility and to produce more profitable cereals,” he said.

Speaking to over 500 delegates at the Teagasc National Tillage Conference, he said that there are a limited number of crop rotations and real crop options available to Irish farmers.

This could have negative impacts on cereal yields, profitability and sustainable production.

The Teagasc representative highlighted research which shows that cereal yields are higher when they are grown in rotation.

Research shows that wheat yields are 11% higher when the crop is grown in rotation compared to wheat grown in a continuous cropping system, he said.

“The use of tillage break crops, especially legumes, will allow farmers to save up to €40/ha in Nitrogen costs when growing cereals.

Using this yield increase and some savings in production costs, the adoption of rotations can give a useful boost in margins amounting to an extra €118/ha per year at low grain prices and average national yields.

He also said that break crops have the potential to reduce the protein deficits that farmers in Europe face, as up to 70% of the total protein requirements are imported.

However, there is only 10% of Ireland’s arable area in non-cereal crops and because of this there are fields that have grown the same crop for 15 to 40 years, Forristal said.

“In the 1970s and 1980s there was specilisation, which is not going to reverse, into specific crop enterprises.

“We have also had a loss of some break crops such as sugar beet and other break crops tend to fluctuate in area.”

Benefits of using break crops
  • Disease control
  • Weed control
  • Soil structure improvements
  • Increase in nutrient availability
  • Higher yields in the crops that follow in the rotation