Teagasc tillage specialist, Shay Phelan, has highlighted a number of fieldwork priorities for tillage farmers, which should be addressed in the run-up to Christmas.  

The dry spell of weather at the end of November helped many growers to continue to drill winter wheat varieties. This should ease the workload next spring.

Provided they come through the coming weeks undamaged by birds, slugs and wet soils, then there is no reason why these crops should not perform relatively well.

However, trial work shows crops that are planted in December do not yield as well as those planted in October.

“Over the next few weeks, efforts will have to be made to prevent crow damage using scarecrows, bangers and by firing a few shots to keep them off the crops,” Phelan told Agriland.

“Where bangers are set up, remember they are only allowed to be active during daylight hours, so growers should ensure they are turned off each evening.”

According to Phelan, some earlier crops have suffered badly from slug damage and again late-planted crops are also at risk.

“Growers should ensure that all fields are baited and numbers of slugs are carefully monitored,” he continued.

“Where numbers are high and quad bikes can travel, then apply slug pellets to prevent damage.”

For most of the earlier-sown crops, herbicide applications will be left until the spring, as ground has been simply too wet to drive on fields.

Anyone deciding to spray now should walk crops beforehand to make sure there are no wet pockets where a tractor and sprayer could get stuck.

However, applying a herbicide now can help to make spring applications less complicated, but should only be considered if ground conditions are suitable.

Winter barley

According to Teagasc tillage advisors, there have been a few reports of winter barley having been drilled in the last week.

And while some growers are confident that such crops will perform due to limited past experience, the risks are much greater than with wheat.

Barley does not cope with wet conditions. Location and drainage are key components in picking a field that might be suitable to drill.

It is not the conditions that the crop is drilled into, rather the weather in the following weeks before it emerges that will determine if it grows or not.

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Most established barley crops have not yet received a herbicide, as many are under various forms of stress.

Even though options in controlling grass weeds are less effective in the spring, they may be a better option than placing extra stress on crops now and potentially reducing tiller numbers and consequently yield.

Winter oilseed rape

December is often the month when the main post-emergence herbicide is applied to oilseed rape crops.

Both Kerb and Astrokerb work best when temperatures drop and growth rates slow down.

Astrokerb also brings the benefit of controlling difficult grass weeds, including blackgrass.

Both products should be applied at full rate. Those treated with Astrokerb should be labelled accordingly, as the straw from these fields must be incorporated back into the soil.

These areas should be included in the 2024 Straw Incorporation Measure.