In the 40 odd years under my watch, I don’t think the farm has ever looked as badly as it does this autumn. Yes, the beeches and trimmed hedgerows have looked colourful and tidy in their autumn glory and along with the summer-painted, bright-red field gates, they cheer up a gloomy scene. But that’s where it begins and ends. Beyond that, the fields aren’t a pretty sight.
The grassland is more poached than ever before, even though the cattle are housed for over a month. The sown tillage fields look from okay to awful, ranging from wet, bare patches to whole fields wiped out by slugs and the autumn deluge.
Practically every field is a soppy mess and as the seed fails to emerge, I regret sowing wheat this autumn. We’ve hardly one decent crop to show for €20,000 splashed out on Roundup, seed and slug pellets. It’s very discouraging to drive by these haunting fields on a daily basis and I’d prefer to be looking at stubbles.
So, has min-till let us down with a bang this autumn? Yes, probably, but I see plenty of patchy-looking cereals established elsewhere by the plough and one-pass. But I also see some good ones as well; and there are some fine min-till crops, but we don’t have them.
Recently I spent a pleasant afternoon rambling crops with friend Michael Love, who has some fine min-till cereals sown with his Sprinter. His nice, undulating fields are, in the main, the well-structured and free-draining gravelly loam Patrickswell soil series, which is ideal for tillage. We have either the heavier Rathowen series or the more varied Boyne Alluvium. The difference between wet and dry land is very plain to see this autumn. Rathowen series is a weak-structured, clay loam and not an ideal tillage soil. Cultivation is only made possible by lower rainfall than further west or north. It’s prone to a perched water table in very wet periods, particularly in flat fields, which is precisely our problem this autumn. But with (normally) good autumn establishment, it’s a top-class wheat soil.
However, if wet autumns are to become more frequent, we will have to adapt accordingly and some of our very heavy and flat fields may be questionable for autumn sowing and, possibly, tillage cropping at all. All told, it’s an unsettling time in the fields.
Our Sprinter tine drill is brilliant in normal conditions, but this autumn it’s too wet and we’ve messed up. Without being overly technical, it has 28 press wheels in two rows – which is about 24 too many in a wet autumn. The seedbeds were too fine and compacted for the 110mm deluge that fell within two weeks of sowing. I think a basic tine drill without press wheels would be better in the wet. A neighbouring farm sown with such a drill is better.
Maybe it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference, but it bugs me that water seems to lie on fields once they’re sown. We’ve fields which were cultivated and have had no lying water, while adjacent sown fields are a quagmire. Would direct drilling have been better? Maybe.
Now if you believe, as we’re supposed to believe, it’s human-induced climate change that’s bringing these wetter years, then they’re obviously here to stay. If it took 200 years of carbon burning to feck up the climate, it’ll take another 100 years to fix it. So, there’s no hope and you may sell the corn drill and combine and you’ll be sentenced to cows for life.
However if you believe, as I do, that the climate has always been changing, then there is lots of hope. Next year could be a cracker. Just like last year.