Tillage focus: Still sowing spring crops in south Wexford

It’s almost the middle of May and, in a normal year, spring barley crops would have received a herbicide spray and many would have had a first fungicide applied by now.

However, the reality is that many farmers are still ploughing; not to mention sowing or spraying crops.

While the panic may be over in the midlands and north-east of the country, the south is a different story. Nicky Keane was ploughing when AgriLand visited his farm near Broadway, Co. Wexford, on Thursday (May 10). The sun was shining and the coastline was almost visible from the field.

Late sowing

The good weather last weekend made a big dent in his workload; but Nicky still has spring barley sowing to complete and oilseed rape planting to start.

The experience is a new one for Nicky. He said: “I’ve never sown barley in May before. My father told me that he sowed in June and he got 1.5t/ac.”

Nicky is not sure how the late-sowing date will affect yield. On this, he said: “I think it depends on the season. If we get the right weather, it could be OK. I know we’ve had so much rain, but we don’t want to get it too dry now either.

“We’d always be later down here, but usually we’d be finished by the end of April,” he added.

Nicky Keane chatted to AgriLand as he ploughed for spring oilseed rape

The first spring crop that Nicky planted this year was spring beans. While the ground in south Wexford is often late, this year’s work is about one month behind.

“We sowed beans on April 16. We sowed at that time last year and the crop yielded 3t/ac. The beans just seemed to get away with it.

“A lot of our barley would be sown late down here as well. We have heavier soils and the moisture stays in the soil a bit better in the summer.

We’re about a month behind this year. We started sowing spring barley at the end of March last year and we started on April 29 this year.

“A few fine days came in April and we ploughed and sowed it all in those few days.

“We got the majority of barley sown over the bank holiday weekend. We still have 6ac to sow. We were meant to put beans in this piece of ground, but it was too late. We’re going to plant spring rape here instead.

“We’ll get this sowed early next week. It will need four or five days to dry out, which is hard to get in a row. We had 60ac ploughed before the snow and we had to plough everything else before the seed drill.”

Spring beans peeping. They were sown on April 16

Planting getting under control

On May 4, AgriLand estimated that 25% of ground had been sown in the south-east of the country. This figure increased over last weekend and it might now be estimated that there is 25% to be sown.

Nicky said that he has been receiving messages from his friends coming in at 6:00am in the morning having finished sowing.

There was a lot of sowing done in the past few days. On Tuesday night, two of my friends were out sowing until that time to beat the rain.

“There are a lot of ploughed fields around. I don’t know if they’re going into spring barley, spring rape or beet.

“There’s a lot of sowing to be done, but – at the same time – it’s getting wrapped up. The bank holiday weekend sorted a lot of it.”

Minimum-tillage

Nicky operates both plough and min-till systems on the farm. He usually min-tills some of his spring barley ground, but weather conditions didn’t allow for this in 2018.

“Half of our ground would be min-till. We use a Kuhn cultivator and a Vaderstad drill. I had planned to plant most of the spring crops using min-till, but the weather didn’t allow – it was too wet.

“I usually plough before the beans. So we would plough every three to four years. Some of the spring barley ground would be ploughed all the time. We swap land with a potato farmer.”

Nicky direct drills approximately 120ac of cover crops on his farm.

We dug test holes after the cover crop and we saw how the crops were affecting the soil structure.

“I sprayed this off in January and was hoping to use min-till in this field; but – with the weather – it didn’t work out that way,” he added.

Nicky’s rotation includes: winter wheat; winter oats; winter barley; spring beans; spring barley; spring rape; and potatoes. Half of the crops were sown in the winter. Some of the winter crops went in in poor conditions.

“We’re up to date on everything so far. When the weather broke, after sowing the beans, I went early with fertiliser on the winter wheat – just to get that out of the way. We finished the T1 on the winter wheat on bank holiday Monday.

The winter wheat is the most expensive crop; but it’s the best paying crop as well.

Nicky has moved to six-row winter barley and is achieving higher yields as a result. He is being careful with growth regulator on the barley – Quadra, Bazooka and Belfry.

“I gave up growing two-row. I’m getting on well with six-row. It stays a lot cleaner and is yielding well. We applied CeCeCe early, Medax Max was the second application and we put Terpal on at flag leaf.

“You save on disease spray, but the seed is more expensive. It probably balances out. The two-rows weren’t yielding and I’ve averaged 4t/ac on the six-rows over the past few years.

“The first of the spring barley is coming up now. I spread the nitrogen on the malting barley before I sowed it. It was washed in before it got up. We’ll see if it will make any difference to the protein; I don’t know if it will or not. I was going to drill the fertiliser with the sower. We usually combine drill in the spring time.”

Making changes to improve economics

Nicky is looking into growing maize for livestock farmers next year. He is making changes on his farm in order to improve profitability.

“We had 100ac of malt last year for Boortmalt and we cut back because the difference in the price of it and feed barley was too small. The rest goes to Cooney Furlong for roasting.

Nicky is a member of the Irish Grain Growers’ Group (IGGG).

“I think the IGGG is doing a good job. We’d be forgotten about otherwise. They’ve done great work with the Joint Committee on Agriculture; raising awareness about the positive impact that tillage has on the environment and that wouldn’t have been done otherwise.”

The sea gulls were following Nicky’s plough