Don’t apply nitrogen when the crop isn’t growing

Winter crops are still facing tough conditions as Storm Dennis is heading in the direction of Ireland this weekend.

At a crop walk in Teagasc Oak Park on Tuesday, February 11, Richie Hackett explained that while there has been a lot of research carried out on nitrogen (N) on winter barley crops, there is very little to compare to crops which have been through an autumn and winter such as this one.

However, the principles remain the same.

“Efficient use of N is becoming ever more important and one of the key things is to put N on when the crop wants it, rather than too far in advance,” Richie commented.

Crops have been through a very difficult winter

In other years, data has shown little difference between N applications in February and mid March; if anything data favoured the slightly later timing, but as Richie said this research was “all done in normal crops that didn’t get a huge amount of hardship over the winter”.

The situation this year is a lot different; some crops have been tillering slowly, while others have only single tillers.

Richie commented that he wouldn’t be running out with the fertiliser spreader due to the facts that there is very little growth at the minute and there is a large amount of rain in the forecast.

Money would be better spent when soil temperatures increase and plants are growing into March. He did note that if farmers are worried about poor crops it might be worth applying some N, but only where ground can be travelled.

Poor crops; lower N requirement

However, these poor crops also have a lower N requirement.

A key point is those types of crops have a very low requirement so putting on a huge amount of N probably isn’t necessary. It is important to ensure these crops’ major and minor element requirements are fulfilled.

“For those tillered crops I’d be happy to go in early March – somewhere between early march and Paddy’s Day.

For the thinner crops or backward crops, if you’re worried about them I’d go a bit earlier, but I suppose the key point is to make sure the other nutrients are right, Ps and Ks, things like trace elements – manganese (Mn).

“All of those need to be right as well for crops that are in trouble. You basically want to make sure that they’re not lacking in anything.”

Richie also advised farmers to wait until crops have recovered, have started growing and are giving a better idea of their potential before deciding to cut back on N.