Good weather: The relative hard, dry and cold weather seems like a Godsend for crops already in the ground.

Some growers are already watching the improving ground conditions and wondering about ploughing, with a few thinking about planting.

While heavy rain could still occur, every week we get into the new year leaves growth that bit closer and crops that bit safer.

But there are still a number of critical weeks to go before we are out of the woods or before widespread planting might be considered.

Decisions: With ground continuing to dry out, it is up to the time to decide on cropping options for the coming spring.

As well as your usual cereal choices, you might also consider including beans and oilseed rape this spring to help reduce the farm nitrogen bill and cash in on high rape prices.

It is important to remember that a broad rotation always opens up more opportunities for crop choice to allow you to follow a niche opportunity if one becomes available.

It seems likely that there will be a good interest in protein crops again this spring to help with nitrogen requirements.

But there is unlikely to be an endless supply of seed for a massive area increase and so people would need to decide on their planting plans and get seed ordered.

The same is true for spring rape. Seed may well be available, but it may not be in the country if the seed assemblers do not think it will be needed.

So get ‘Plan A’ in place and see if you can get all the seed you think you need. It is also important to consider what ‘Plan B’ would look like if your primary intentions do not work out.

Beans: Growers on dry land might consider planting spring beans soon, ground conditions permitting. Planting must be deep (10cm or greater) to help minimise crow damage. While early planting is beneficial, it is not essential, but it would mean some work out of the way early on.

Seedbed conditions are still important for beans, as is soil fertility.

Conditions down in the seedbed matter as much or more than the top. Teagasc research has occasionally found higher yields with later planting, pointing to the need for attention to seedbeds.

Fertility is also very important. Soil pH needs to be close to seven and some P & K should be put down with the seed on Index 1 or 2 soils. This is even more important with strip-till planting.

P and K requirement depends on soil fertility, with recommended rates for Index 1, 2 and 3 put at 50kg, 40kg and 20kg/ha for P and 125kg, 50kg and 40kg/ha for K, respectively.

Beans can be successfully planted by ploughing or strip-tilling and the latter is preferable.

Seed rate should be driven by seed number and seed size with the aim of establishing around 30 plants/m2. That would mean 225kg/ha or 14.3st/ac for 600g TGW seed at 80% establishment.

Make sure that your seed source is free of ascochyta and bean stem nematode.