The View from Northern Ireland: Following a good autumn most winter cereal crops are well established with the exception of late drilled wheat crops after potatoes and forage maize, some of which have only just emerged.

Any residual weed control applications should be made as soon as possible aiming to target annual meadow grass before it reaches tillering. Check product labels carefully for latest application timings as some autumn products have a 31 December cut-off date.

Plant counts are generally good in late drilled crops and some early nitrogen (30-40 kg per hectare) in late February or early March will help these crops tiller to achieve full yield potential. For better established crops tiller number counts should be made in mid to late February to help plan nitrogen timing.

Where tiller counts are close to 1100 per square metre for winter barley and 900 per square metre for winter wheat, then  apply one third of the total nitrogen  top dressing during late tillering (late February/early March in winter barley, mid/late March in winter wheat). For thicker crops, with tiller counts above these levels, reduce and delay early nitrogen applications to prevent excessive tillering which can leave crops more prone to lodging.

Apply any remaining crop phosphorus and potassium requirements during February and March.

Spring cereals

Now is the time to carry out soil analysis on any land intended for spring cereals. The recommended list of cereal varieties for Northern Ireland has just been released by AFBI and will be available at the Arable Conference on the 21 January and on the AFBI website.

Order seed early to ensure the best varieties can be grown and have the seed on farm to allow early drilling where possible. Local research has shown that yield potential is lost when spring barley drilling is delayed beyond mid-March. One month’s delay can lead to a 2 tonne per hectare yield reduction.


Crops in store

With the vast majority of crops now in store these need to be carefully monitored and checked to ensure quality is not deteriorating. Use a store diary to log conditions in the store, to ensure they are optimal for storage.

Automated systems can log this information but calibration of probes is essential to ensure readings are correct. It is important to know the customers specification and where possible use the customers methods for assessing quality to help minimise the risk of rejected loads.

Considering the high cost of storage particularly refrigerated storage it is important to make early decisions on the suitability of stocks for long term storage and speak to customers early regarding any suspect stock so that they can be marketed before any further deterioration occurs.

Always take care when opening store doors for unloading and ensure warm moist air does not enter the store.This can cause condensation on the surface of tubers and increase the risk of fungal diseases on the skin, for example, silver scurf.

Hydrometer and temperature probe readings are necessary to assess the likelihood of condensation forming. Dew point charts are available on the crops section of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development website.

Check stores are protected against frost and take care handling potatoes out of store in freezing conditions to avoid tuber damage.

When grading and handling ensure graders are cleaned and disinfected between batches and vacuum dust from stores and grading areas at least daily to prevent spread of bacterial rots and fungal spores to clean stock.

Spring preparation

Carry out soil analysis as soon as fields are identified. Early results will enable prompt ordering of fertiliser. For fields with a high potassium requirement, where muriate of potash is required, half should be applied as soon as ground is ploughed.

Order seed as soon as possible to ensure good healthy seed of your chosen variety can be obtained. Where cold storage is available on the farm take early delivery so that stocks can be hot boxed and checked to ensure they are suitable for planting.

Keep seed in delivery bags until hot box results are checked and once you are content the seed meets your specification transfer it into clean potato boxes for storage until planting. If you do not have cold storage on the farm agreement may be reached with the vendor to store the seed until planting, although it would still be advisable to check seed prior to delivery if possible to ensure it meets your specification.

CAP Reform

Early indications are that Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reform could pose some implications which will require careful planning by cereal and potato growers.

While all details are not yet fully clarified there will be an opportunity to update yourself on the current position at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise,UAS, UFU Arable Conference on 21 January at Greenmount Campus, Antrim. To register, phone 028 9442 6770.

By Robin Bolton of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.