Preparation for greening: Crop growers face many challenges under the new CAP Basic Payment Scheme.
It is important to assess the availability of Ecological Focus Areas to determine the need for any fallow before spring crop planting is completed. Also check cropping rotations and areas of crop grown comply with crop diversification requirements. A Greening Calculator, available on the DARD website, provides guidance on compliance. Mixed livestock and arable farmers should also check if any of the Greening derogations apply to their business.
When field conditions allow winter crops should receive their first application of nitrogen (N) if this has not been applied already. Aim to apply one third of total N top dressing to winter crops during late tillering (by mid March for winter barley and mid to late March for winter wheat). Apply the remainder during early stem extension, Growth Stage (GS) 30-32, which, for winter barley is reached in early to mid April and for winter wheat in late April to early May. For crops on continual cropping rotations and where no organic manures have been applied withholding 30-40 kg per hectare of N until the flag leaf emerges at GS 37 may be beneficial. Apply remaining P and K requirements now based on soil analysis.
Most of Northern Ireland is now considered deficient in sulphur (S). Risk of deficiency is highest where soils are light and rainfall is low. Winter cereals should receive 20 kg S per hectare (50 kg SO3 per hectare) in the spring before GS 32. The most convenient application is as ammonium sulphate which also provides nitrogen. If potash is required sulphate of potash is also a good source.
Carry out remaining grass weed control on winter cereals as soon as possible and before annual meadow grass reaches tillering. Check product labels carefully for cut-off dates and growth stages.
Some disease is already active in earlier sown crops of winter barley and these may benefit from a T0 application of fungicide to prevent too much pressure on the main T1 spray. Lush winter barley crops require a robust T1 spray in late March or early April at GS 30-31 to control rhyncosporium and mildew. Keep rates high particularly if a T0 has not been applied.
For winter wheat the main spray is a well timed T1 at GS 31-32 which is generally mid to late April. This should be based on a robust rate of triazole (Proline or Ignite) combined with an SDHI or mixtures. Links to HGCA fungicide decision support charts are available on the crops page of the DARD website, along with growth stage charts to help plan your programmes.
Drilling spring barley
Sowing should take place as soon as a good seedbed can be created. The chosen seed rate, calculated from the thousand-grain weight, should lie between 350 and 400 grains per square metre. The lower rate will suffice for March sown barley drilled into a good seedbed however in poorer conditions, or if sowing later, the higher rate is preferable. Monitor spring sown crops for signs of slug and leatherjacket damage, particularly if emergence is delayed due to cold conditions.
By now most fields intended for spring cropping should be soil sampled. If there is a high requirement for potash (K) it is advisable to apply this as soon as the ground is ploughed, particularly where muriate of potash is the main source.
Seed preparation for planting
Attention to detail during handling and preparation of seed prior to planting can result in an increased early tuber yield, while optimising fry colour and skin quality. It is important to carefully check the seed when it arrives on farm and have a sample hot boxed to determine the presence of disease and overall sprouting vigour. Treat seed with a fungicide pre-planting to reduce disease transmission and maximize marketable yield.
Sprouting and chitting
A number of systems are available for pre-sprouting including tray and bag systems. Systems must ensure adequate temperature control, ventilation and light. Set seed of early potato varieties up in sprouting boxes to promote apical dominance, that is, one strong sprout per seed tuber, one stem and a small number of large tubers early. The opposite holds for maincrop potatoes where multiple sprouting is encouraged to produce many tubers which can increase in size over a longer growing season.