‘Game changing’ harvest as lower yields add to tillage farmers’ woes

This year’s winter barley harvest could be a potential game changer, according to Teagasc Tillage Advisor Ciaran Hickey.

Speaking to Agriland, Hickey said it is a difficult time for tillage farmers, as they are faced with higher costs and both lower yields and prices.

Winter barley yields are well back on last year, he said and in some cases they have dropped by 0.75t/ac in Co. Wexford.

He said that some winter barley crops have been hampered by Take All, a fungal infection that effects the roots of the barley plant when it’s grown in the one field over a number of years.

Last year winter barley did exceptionally, the best fields done 5t/ac, but this same fields are only doing 4t/ac this year due to Take All.

Hickey said that the mild weather conditions seen last winter resulted in optimum conditions for the development of the fungal disease and as a result yields are now suffering.

In terms of the average crop of winter barley, he said they are yielding between 3-3.5t/ac, back by about 0.75t/ac on harvest 2015.

Hickey also said that the bushel weights are also down on last year and in some cases farmers have reported bushel weights as low as 52.

Looking further south to Co. Cork, Teagasc Tillage Advisor Ciaran Collins said that between 70-80% of the winter barley harvest has been completed.

But like the harvest in Co. Wexford, Collins said that winter barley yields are back by 0.5-.075t/ac, with most crops yielding between 3-4t/ac.

Poor grain fill, along with lower plant numbers have resulted in these lower yields, he said, while these is also some evidence of BYVD and Take All in winter barley crops harvested to date.

Will tillage farmers breakeven in 2016?

Hickey said that some tillage farmers may be forced to dip into their direct payments to cover the costs of growing winter barley this year.

When you do the sums it is very tight, it’s a very hard time on tillage farmers.

The Teagasc Specialist said that winter barley growers need to harvest at least 3.7t/ac just to breakeven, when all of the machinery work is completed by contractors.

He said that it costs about €494/ac to grow winter barely crop using all contractor labour and at a barley price of €120-125/t winter barley growers are facing a scary future.

Even the very best tillage farmers who have a handle on machinery and fixed costs will be at the pin of their collar, he said.

“Last year the amber light was on as it was a high cost and a low price year, but the good yields compensated and papered over the cracks.

“Roll on 12 months and the price has slipped even more and we don’t have the yield to compensate,” he said.

The Teagasc Specialist said that some farmers may walk away from winter barley production and move to spring crops due to the lower costs.

Hickey said that winter barley growers have to carry the costs of growing the crop over a longer period of time and may see a switch to spring barley as a better option for their business.

He concluded that tillage farmers will face big decisions this autumn and may have to reflect on their future in winter barley production.