College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprises (CAFRE) crops advisors are highlighting the impact that a wet autumn, in which winter cereals were sown over an extended period, has resulted in crops which now range from strong and well-developed to thin and backward.

High winter rainfall has left soil nitrogen (N) levels low – therefore, early N is a priority to kick-start them back into life.

Winter barley requires at least one third of its total N during late tillering, before mid-March and winter wheat the same proportion before the end of March. For thin and struggling crops, sow N earlier to encourage tillering.

No longer a crop diversification requirement

If ground conditions aren’t suitable, increase application rates at first dressing, once field conditions allow. Include at least 20-30kg/ha of sulphur in early fertiliser dressings and top up remaining phosphate and potash.

Where herbicide was not applied in the autumn, prioritise winter barley, as the few grass weed herbicides effective for this crop will only work on small grass weeds.

Generally, latest application dates are earlier than for winter wheat. Consult product labels for the latest application date or growth stage.

The removal of greening requirements in Northern Ireland means there is no longer a crop diversification requirement. This simplifies cropping decisions.

Still time to soil sample fields

According to CAFRE advisor Leigh McClean, there is still time to soil sample fields before spreading slurry or farmyard manure. He explained:

“The Nutrients Action Programme requires a fertilisation plan for farms using chemical phosphorus fertiliser, phosphorus-rich manure and anaerobic digestate.

“A soil analysis undertaken within the last four years is required to demonstrate crop need for phosphorus fertiliser.”

Excessively wet conditions last harvest have reduced germination in some crops intended for seed.

“A seed germination test is money well-spent in confirming the purity and viability of the seed and the starting point for seed rate calculations,” confirmed McClean.

Seed testing is carried out at the Official Seed Testing Station at AFBI, Crossnacreevy.

Sowing of spring cereals should take place as soon as a good seedbed can be created. Growers should aim for a seed rate between 350 and 400 grains per square metre.

The lower rate should suffice for March-sown barley drilled into a good seedbed. Increase the seed rate in poorer conditions such as cold, wet or heavy soils or if sowing later.

Crops Payment Pilot Scheme

The Northern Ireland Protein Crops Payment Pilot Scheme is being introduced for the 2021 and 2022 scheme years.

Eligible crops will be combinable beans, peas and sweet lupins. The minimum area claimed must be at least 0.3ha and applicants may only claim on land planted in protein crops.

Areas of protein crops sown in a mixture with cereals or other crops are not eligible for the scheme. Protein crops declared under the scheme must not be harvested until after July 31, 2021.