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John Farmer Writes

John Farmer Writes

Harvest 2020 has come to an end for me, the end of what was an ideal growing year in many ways for us farming in the southern part of the country. Nature bit back as it neared the finish line and we had one on the most difficult harvests I’ve seen in my lifetime. I was young in 1985/86 but still have vivid memories of the difficulties those times, like this year with gear stuck in fields while a real salvage operation was carried out to save crops that had moderate to poor yields after. The issue was we had another difficult year in 1986, but difficult as we wanted a bounce back from 1985. I suppose what really proved its worth those years was sugar beet as it was near always a saviour in the times of a poor harvest. All memories now unfortunately.

On the crop front, my winter barley yielded 4.2tn per acre at 20% moisture, all Belfry. As I mentioned in my previous article some of it lodged due to no PGR applied and that was the heaviest of the crop after beet. The rest after wheat stood up by and large as was visually thinner and baled 1 square bale less to the acre at 5.5. Surprisingly it out yielded the heavier crop, but I suppose that was due to the lodging and the pigeons did attack it, not crows. I would say that 3.8 and 4.4 tons respectively were where the yields of the 2 fields ended up; happy enough as it looked promising all year.

2020 lesson; keep the nitrogen levels high and early and ALWAYS apply a late PGR to 6 row winter barley

My winter wheat was my star crop this year; with both crops, Bennington and Graham cutting in 4.9tn average at about 21/22% moisture as I harvested them a little early due to a poor forecast and that’s one thing I got right for a change. They stayed very clean right up to the end with no fusarium showing and had a KPH of 77. The Bennington harvested 5tn, while the Graham was 4.8. While I’m growing wheat, this must go down as my most successful season ever, even though I did spend a fortune on fungicides which goes with a crop down in the south of Ireland. The one thing that I did notice late in the year was a lot of very noticeable tipping on the Graham and it just took the gloss off it a little. I sold the straw no problem to my usual contractor as we have a good understanding and I want him as much as he wants me, so we are fair to one another.

2020 lesson; weather it’s the new chemistry, variety resistance or just the year; the crop remained very clean and I intend to follow the same program for 2021 as much as possible.

The Winter Beans were harvested on the 3 Sept and yielded 3.1tn per acre at 20/21 % Moisture, awaiting result yet from Dairygold, which I’m delighted with. While they looked too thick all summer, they were normal enough to harvest, stood up reasonably well and compensated well with pod vs stem ratio. I only sprayed them twice for disease, so that was a bonus, but I wouldn’t be planning on that every year. I chopped the haulm and I’m tempted to just spray off the green trash around the field, disc and one-pass winter wheat direct into the tilt. There probably isn’t a lot saved when I must do all these things but it’s tempting as the soil is like snuff at present.

2020 lesson; winter beans do work (for 2020 anyway) but be brave and cut back the seeding rate.

My peas is where the wheels fell off the waggon. What promised so much all year got hammered by the wet and stormy weather. It both flattened the crop to a large degree but worse it caused extensive pod shatter where a lot of the pods shed their peas onto the ground from very weak and fragile pod sets that seemed to decay with the weather. I had high hopes for this crop all year as they looked and grew beautifully, but I was certainly put back in my box and will need to review as to where do they go from here. Should they have been desiccated earlier and harvested at a higher moisture? And, if so desiccated with what? Should winter peas be looked at? Finally, if we had normal harvest weather what would they have turned out like? Unfortunately, at this stage I can only guess. I got 0.6tn to the acre but had a difficult job harvesting.

2020 lesson: Difficult crop in wet weather and we get our share of that, back to the drawing board.

My spring barley was harvested over a period of time, starting around 3rd August, very early as the crop was ripe despite very strong straw, where I got really good yields of Planet malting barley, all passing for malting with a KPH of 65 to 67, at moistures of 20% and very low protein of 9%. The weather then broke, we had a bad storm and very quickly it started to take from the crop. It took 3 more attempts to finish it which I did on 30th August in blazing sun, but the yields had deteriorated a lot at that stage from the highs of the start. I’m still happy as my overall average was 3.2tn, ranging from 3.7tn/ac at the start and finishing with 2.8 of poor quality grain with bushels of 59 and 60. Surprisingly I failed to fill my roasting contract as the main concern for Dairygold was that I had to have a KPH of 63 plus and that I hadn’t in the finish as it seemed to slip a lot after the weather events. Noticeably some fusarium and a lot of skinned and damaged grains starting to show at that stage also; basically, the crop had weathered a lot and lost a lot of its quality and it was plain to see. Truthfully, I was disappointed as I felt that everything that happened agronomically from the day it was planted right up to the 4th of August was textbook correct, all happening in excellent weather only to be beaten at the barn door. The straw got baled eventually after turning and tossing a few times, ending up with 9.5 bales to the acre , not bad, sold and collected by my usual few customers but no price agreed yet; what I want is a fair market price that reflects the efforts and risk involved in saving this crop as it’s not always plain sailing as this year showed and you carry all the risk

2020 lesson: Make use of every minute to harvest your spring barley once it’s at 21% moisture or below

The fodder beet was so sick in mid-May after I burned the hell out of it with my T1 herbicide due to the presence of mangold fly larvae that I near gave up on it, now it’s some crop. I sprayed it twice and while it’s far from spotless, it’s ok as there’s a scattering of late germinating fat hen throughout it but considering from where it came from, its fine. In any case that weed will have died back by November and won’t cause any harvesting issues. It is a bit gappy as I lost plants early on from the T1 and mangold fly problem and as a result there are very big roots in places, probably a nuisance as will only result in harvesting losses. This Mangold fly problem occurred at least once if not twice again during the season as there were 2 if not 3 generations of this pest this year but the early one is by far the most damaging, I feel. I sprayed it in early August with Opera for leaf diseases as I always do as I find it very beneficial especially for late harvesting. Now all I want is my neighbourly farmer to honour his side of the deal and all will be good. He has paid me a deposit as he promised, just hope he can use it all as its looks like a very big crop. The fat can be taken from this crop very quickly if you are left with unsold beet or cheap sales to clear out the residue. I planted 15 acres and the agreed deal was for 400tn, probably a bit over the top in hindsight

2020 lesson: revert to a gentle 3 spray program and manage mangold fly control differently; how I don’t know yet, a French man might help me.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for going to the bother of reading my three pieces during the year. Hopefully you got something from them or at least relate to what issues I encountered. Now we will put this season behind us and move on into a new season; all in all, this was still a reasonable year all considering.