The latest Tillage Edge podcast featured the views of John Mahon on the future of non plough-based establishment systems within Irish agriculture.

He recently joined the Teagasc Enable Conservation Tillage (ECT) programme as an advisor.

John had previously spent 30 years working within Ireland’s crops industry, initially in commercial sales, but, more recently, as a consultant.

The use of non-plough based systems

Courtesy of the podcast, Mahon discussed the role of non plough-based establishment systems within Ireland’s tillage sector.

He commented: “We are seeing a gradual switch from plough-based to non plough-based establishment systems. And in a way, this is a good thing.

“It takes time for farmers to learn about and implement new ideas. Min-till kicked this process off. But we have since had growers actively addressing the potential for no-till seed drills.

“Today, every part of the country has someone successfully using non-plough crop establishment systems,” he added.

“It’s down now to a case of the systems being suitable to a particular farm. But it must be sresseed that non plough-based systems are not for every situation.

“But I do know that very few people who went down this road have reverted back to the blanket use of a plough. They are finding that non plough establishment systems maximise their incomes.”

Mahon explained that the non plough system is an approach to growing crops that will both improve incomes and reduce workloads, but is not for every circumstance.

“In addition, yield expectations remain high. Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that taking the plough out will help reduce the carbon footprint of a cropping system,” he said.

Changing methods

According to Mahon, it’s not just a case of changing the drill and driving on.

He said: “It’s all about adapting the right mindset at the start. But, fundamentally, this is all about making a business decision.

“Farmers also need to know why they are switching and what they have to do to make the change a successful one.

“Farmers need to learn how to adapt to non plough-based establishment systems. When farmers started down this road 20 years ago, it was hard to get good advice. This is not the case today,” he continued.

He explained that if people have an open mind, ask plenty of questions and try a new system out on a trial basis, they will make progress.

“Obviously, all of this has to fit in with a rotation. It may well be a case of asking a neighbour for the use of a machine simply to try it out on a small area with a specific crop,” he said.

“This has been the entry point to conservation tillage for many growers. In many ways, it will be down to trial and error.”