The opportunity to successfully grow winter malting barley is regarded as a game changer by Co. Donegal tillage farmer, Peter Lynch.

Farming close to Saint Johnston, less than five miles from the city of Derry, his cereal enterprise is very much focused on the growing of barley, wheat and oilseed rape. There is also a drystock cattle enterprise on the farm.

Peter runs with the business with his wife Dee, and father George. His sons, Tom and Charlie, are also involved in the running of the farm.

Peter said: “Winter crops suit for a number of reasons. One, is the fact that we plant quite a lot of spring crops for neighbouring farmers on a contract basis.

“The opportunity to grow malting varieties of winter barley developed a number of years ago, thanks to the endeavours of the management team at Devenney Agricare.

“What started out as a trial project with Boortmalt, has now developed into a sustainable business.”

Craft is the specific winter malting variety grown by Peter and other tillage farmers in east Donegal.

“The barley is delivered initially to Agricare, where it is assessed to determine it’s suitability for malting.

“Grain that meets the standard is then transported to the Boortmalt plant in Athy.

“Subsequently, malt is brought back up to Donegal, where it is used by two whiskey distilling businesses. So, it really is a case of guaranteeing full traceability from farm to the final product.

“This year, between 30% and 40% of my Craft output passed the malting test. This was a direct consequence of the dreadful weather that impacted on crops throughout the entire growing season.

“This still means that I am getting a premium price for a significant proportion of my total output; the rest can still be sold as feed barley,” the tillage farmer explained.

Oilseed rape

Peter also regards winter oilseed rape as a game changer for the business. He supplies the Donegal Rapeseed Oil business, which is managed by the team at Donegal Farm Relief Services.

“Again, it’s a case of growing a crop that will be processed locally. Since staring to grow oilseed rape, many tourists in this area have stopped to query what the crop is while it’s in full flower.

“As a result, a sign has been placed in one of the fields, explaining what the crop is and what the seed is used for,” he said.

Peter grows only a small acreage of winter rape. However, it’s inclusion in his cropping rotation has brought about many agronomic benefits, he said.

“Growing oilseed has allowed me to use a number of new herbicide chemistries. As a consequence, I have been able to get on top of brome grasses that were starting to become a real problem on the farm,” the tillage farmer added.

2023 in perspective

Peter regards 2023 as the most challenging tillage year that he has yet to encounter.

“We had a very late start to the spring planting season. This was followed by a drought in late-May and early-June.

“Then came the rain, which kept on falling right through to harvest and beyond.

“We managed to get all the crops harvested, but it was a real struggle. There was nothing easy about the year that was 2023,” he said.

Autumn/winter planting: a tale of two crops

The persistent rain and challenging ground conditions meant that Peter did not get sowing until October.

Winter barley crops are looking well on the Lynch farm right now

“Barley went in significantly later than would normally be the case. That proved to be a positive, as all the barleys are looking very well at the present time.

“Again, we went with Craft as our winter malting variety. I managed to get 90ac of winter barley planted out in total,” he said.

Peter also decided to go with the Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) tolerant variety: Orcade.

“To be honest, BYDV has not been a problem in this part of the world over recent months.

“I put the aphid traps out on behalf of the Teagasc tillage research team. However, aphid numbers have been very low throughout the entire autumn period.

“I managed to get a herbicide on to the barley crops a couple of weeks. I am very happy with the progress they have made since planting,” he added.

But where winter wheat is concerned, the polar opposite is the case.

“We planted out wheat after potatoes, again in October. But the establishment rates have been very poor. I estimate that 30% of the wheat ground will need re-planting come the spring,” he said.

Winter wheat crops are struggling on the Lynch farm at the present time

Despite the challenges of poor autumn weather conditions, Peter is relatively happy with the amount of autumn planting he actually achieved.

“There is a small acreage to be planted out in the spring. We will get on with this as soon as the weather picks up in the New Year.

“But, there’s little doubt that 2023 will go down in the memory of one when very little went according to plan,” he said.