Tillage farmers across the country are struggling with wet weather conditions.

Many are looking at unharvested cereal crops. Some are still waiting to dig potatoes and harvest maize and beet.

Many have planted winter cereals, but maybe not as much as they would have liked. Some that planted are also looking at fields or large patches which have not established.

It’s an extremely difficult time for making management decisions, but planning is the best thing that we can do. Here are some things to consider over the coming weeks and months.

Spring cereal seed in short supply

The Irish Seed Trade Association is estimating that spring supply could be back by up to 40%. Low yields and reduced quality last harvest, combined with the large spring cereals area expected, is putting seed supplies under pressure.

Hopefully the Department of Agriculture will allow for a derogation on seed quality.

It would be better if germination standards were lower and seed rates were increased on Irish seed rather than importing seed from abroad.

Irish seed has extremely high standards, particularly around grass weeds.

We don’t want to import a problem onto our farms.

Order seed early to try to secure your desired variety and to try to secure Irish seed.

Continue planting winter cereals

Where possible, persist in planting winter cereals. Winter wheat can be planted in January and February. Yes, you may take a yield hit, but it will help to ease workload for the season ahead and to spread risk.

Crows, of course, will be an issue and slugs will continue to be a problem in these crops, so there will likely be a bit of work to maintain them.

Think about break crops

As spring cereal seed is in short supply and there is going to be a large area of spring cereals planted, it might be good to look at planting break crops or increasing your area planted to break crops, if possible.

Putting all your eggs in one basket with spring barley is a risk. We saw this season how it was difficult to manage harvesting in particular with many crops not cut.

If harvesting is an issue for cereals, it will also be an issue for beans, but they might stand up to more hardship.

Beans of course also provide the opportunity to avail of the protein payment, which gives you some security of income.

Premium crops

Look out for opportunities to plant premium crops. Maybe you can plant gluten-free oats after grass or break crops or there may be a malting barley contract available.

Spring crops will most likely return lower yields than winter crops, so you need to increase your income in some way.

Forward selling grain

Forward selling grain can reduce risk. Estimate your costs and yields for 2024 with a slightly pessimistic view, and then decide on a level you are happy to sell your grain at where you will make a profit. Then keep an eye out for opportunities to sell.

You might not get the highest prices, but you probably won’t get the lowest prices and you will be securing some income and know you’re making a profit which reduces risk.

Selling small amounts over the season is a good idea and you should never sell too much in case you don’t reach expected yield.

Generally, advice is not to sell over 50% forward.

Risks of planting imported seed

  • Lower standard to Irish seed.
  • Lower tolerance for weed seeds.
  • Potential to import a serious grass weed problem.
  • May have to plant varieties not tested under Irish conditions.