Tom Barry: The right decisions at the right time are crucial for growers nowadays

Watching the markets and weather and acting strategically has been key to business this year, writes North Cork tillage farmer Tom Barry.
Tom Barry: The right decisions at the right time are crucial for growers nowadays

Tom Barry in store No19 for food grade barley on the Barry farm at Kilavullen, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Harvest 2023, for me, was one where making management decisions in a timely manner was critical. This was not easy as the decision to hire in extra help comes at a cost, and the looming low harvest grain price was in the background. 

However, with an extra combine, I finished the harvest in late August. Yields were average, winter wheat after beans was the standout crop yielding more than 11 tonnes/ha. Winter beans once again were a decent crop, yielding 7 tonnes per hectare.

Spring barley yields were around 7.5 tonnes per hectare and straw volume was down by a third. For several years, I have linked up with a specialist straw operator who essentially takes control of the straw post-harvest. 

He has the machinery and skilled workforce to bale and store all the straw in a very efficient manner. This arrangement worked well this year, especially with the limited weather windows available.

Immediately after harvest, with all the straw removed off the fields, I set about disking most of the stubble ground to encourage volunteer cereals and reduce the weed population.

I also disced the bean ground, and this germinated all the volunteer beans. I set the winter wheat in early October, and by this stage, the volunteer beans had also significant nodulation in the roots and combined with the old crop nodulation the following wheat crop was being set into very strong ground. This wheat crop emerged quickly and had little difficulty with the poor weather which followed.

I set two-row winter barley on October 2 and this already is well up. I followed with wheat, hybrid rye and finished with oats on October 15, thankfully, just before the weather broke again.

I used the plough and one pass on most of the crops as ground conditions were only reasonable. I avoided rolling any crop post setting as I considered the ground would only pack and impede germination. This proved to be correct as the rain that fell in late October once again set a new weather record. 

The only crop I have some concern for is the winter hybrid rye. Some of the headlands are weak, but I will keep an eye on this. I dislike the fact that rye is sold now by seeds per square metre, and the setting rate is extremely low, around 60kg/ha. 

This setting rate might be fine in ideal conditions, but certainly not as the setting date gets later and conditions worsen. It is my opinion that there will be substantially more home-saved seed next year as the price of seed grain increased while the price of green grain collapsed by a third. This is not a sustainable position.

I have winter beans left to plough in and I will do this once the weather improves.

I planted a cover crop on August 28 after spring barley. This ground was disked two weeks previously. I applied the kale mix using a slug pellet applicator mounted on the front of the tractor and a roller behind. 

Establishment was good, but where I sprayed off the emerging weeds and volunteers in one field, the cover crop establishment was excellent.

I soil-sampled all the farms, and hopefully, the results will be with me before Christmas. Teagasc also did a deep core soil sampling in four locations to measure buried carbon and view soil structure. 

These results should be available in 2024. What was obvious from the first analysis was the better soil structure on land that has been receiving organic manure for many years versus land which had not received as much.

I also have overwintered stubble for birds on one farm, and I also subsoiled and headland or tramlines with compaction issues.

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Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land


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