It has been estimated that cereal growers in Northern Ireland have succeeded in getting no more than 50% of the ground earmarked for winter crops actually planted out.

“This is a very rough figure”, said Robin Bolton, a senior advisor with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

“The bigger issue will be how much of this planting survives the recent very wet weather. Counties Armagh and Down were particularly badly affected,” Bolton said.

According to Robin, the window to get winter barley crops into the ground has now more or less closed.

“However, the scope to plant crops of winter wheat and oats, particularly wheat, still exists,” he added.

“Wheat crops can be planted through until January and even early February depending on variety, provided ground conditions permit.

“A significant drawback of going with crops so late in the year is the potential damage that can be caused by vermin, slugs and crows.”


Meanwhile, CAFRE advisor, Leigh McLean, confirmed that record rainfall in October has exacerbated problems on arable farms caused by the wet summer. 

Potato growers have been more severely affected by the wet October as harvest had been making slow progress and was already behind for most farms across Northern Ireland.

“While there is little growers can do but wait until ground conditions improve, there are some points to consider while they wait,” McClean told Agriland.

“Firstly, while the water is still evident in the fields, growers should mark out the waterlogged areas.

“When harvesting recommences, the extent of these areas will be clear and these potatoes if possible, should be kept separate from those harvested from drier areas.

According to the CAFRE representative, there have been few good conditions for harvesting potatoes this year and there are already many reports of soft rots in potatoes already in store. 

“Growers are advised not to try to grade out rotting potatoes as this will only spread infection through the rest of the stock,” McClean stated.

“Instead ventilate at-risk potatoes, ideally with positive ventilation systems, to dry and mummify the rotting potatoes.” 

Growers are being specifically advised to take samples of potatoes from all stocks of potatoes in-store.

These should then be placed in a Hot Box i.e., 25℃ for three days under high humidity. 

This will speed the expression of any potential infections or damage and allow growers to assess the potential for long-term storage or to prioritise risky stocks for quicker marketing.

Turning to cereals, CAFRE is advising that 2023 crops have virtually all been harvested now through difficult conditions, with only some small areas remaining.

“Some autumn drilling has been achieved. Earlier drilled crops have emerged quickly due to warm soil temperatures but heavy rain and flooding will have impacted establishment on more recently drilled cereals.

“Given the ground conditions as we move into November there may be limited opportunity for any further drilling this season.

“However, if suitable conditions arise consider the time of drilling and ground conditions and increase seed rates accordingly to achieve target plant populations,” McLean said.

Latest safe sowing dates for wheat varieties are detailed in the AHDB Recommended variety list available online.

Where farms have seed not sown, this should be stored in a dry cool place and may still be suitable for drilling next year.

However, germination tests will be needed and depending on the result, subsequent seed rates can be adjusted.

Any newly-sown crops severely affected by the recent wet weather will have to wait until early spring for further assessment and decision making. 

If ground conditions improve effort should be made to apply residual herbicides on viable stands where this has not already been done as this may be the only option for grassweed control in some crops.

Following excessive rainfall is a good time to check there has been no ingress of water to grain stores. 

Growers should check for hot spots in stored grain and deal with these issues promptly by ventilating or drying if necessary. 

All gutters and drains should be cleared to avoid further problems of this nature developing.