Watch: From the tramlines returns for 2019
From the tramlines is back and this week Stephen Robb profiles all 12 farmers who are taking part in the feature.

Our weekly tillage feature From the tramlines returns for 2019. Ireland’s tillage sector spans across 31 counties north and south. Every area has its own unique challenges, largely defined by climate, markets and soil type and requires a different management approach for each. One of the core aims of From the tramlines is to demonstrate this and give readers real time, on the ground updates from Ireland’s tillage fields. Over the next 40 weeks we’ll be following 12 of Ireland’s top growers from all around the island and follow the management decisions and cropping progress on each of those farms.

10 new growers

This year we welcome back Andrew Bergin from Co Kildare and Simon Best from Co Down, who took part in the feature last year. In addition to these, we have 10 brand new growers on board for this year, who span the length and breadth of the country. This year’s growers are growing a diverse portfolio of crops including cereals, brassicas, potatoes, fodder crops and field vegetables. We will follow the progress of all of these crops as well as the key agronomy decisions growers are making. Soil types range from very light and sandy to heavy and peaty soils across all 12 farms and as a result, establishment methods range from plough based, to min-till to direct drill.

Tramline conversations

A new feature to this year’s From the tramlines are the tramline conversation pages. At the end of the season, each week we will pick one aspect of crop management from 2019 and have a conversation with all 12 growers about it.

An example of some of the topics which will be discussed include fungicide programmes, weed control strategies, crop nutrition and soil improvement plans. We will have a conversation with growers about what did and didn’t work in 2019, and what could we do better in 2020.

Irish Farmers Journal weather

This year the Irish Farmers Journal have teamed up with Sencrop, a French based weather station manufacturer and plan to place weather stations on all 12 tramline farms. In the coming weeks, readers will be able to access live and historical weather data from those stations on the Irish Farmers Journal website.

As well as live weather data, readers can access additional digital tramline content such as videos and audio through our website or our mobile app.

The participants

Ronan Snow

Swords, Co Dublin

Ronan grows just over 800 acres of crops including winter wheat and barley, winter oilseed rape, spring malting barley and spring beans. He also grows vegetable crops including potatoes, celery, cabbage, broccoli and early swedes. Around 95% of the farm is rented and he runs a ploughbased system.

Most the cereals go for feed and they pack some of their potatoes themselves. He has storage for around 750 tonnes of potatoes on farm. He farms with his two brothers Terence and Mark. All three took over from their father Willie. He is a member of the Final Reapers discussion group and he also runs Drynam Park Golf Centre.

David Moody

St. Johnston, Co Donegal

David farms in east Donegal and is currently growing winter barley, wheat and oats. Around 60% of his rotation is winter crops. He plans on sowing spring barley and wheat this spring.

All of these crops are destined for the feed market. David sells to both merchants and directly to farmers. He dries or propcorns and rolls his own grain and sells in both bulk and in bags.

He farms on medium to heavy soil types and operates a plough-based system. He farms along with his father John, and is a member of a Teagasc tillage KT discussion group and Macra na Feirme.

Rob Coleman

Castlemagner, Co Cork

Rob’s winter crops consists of a 50:50 split of winter wheat and barley. Around one fifth of the farm will be sown with spring beans and barley this spring, and all crops are destined for feed. Soil types on the farm consist of mainly limestone loam. The farm was in minimum tillage for 18 years and he is now in transition to direct drilling and conservation agriculture. Around 75% of the farm is owned, while the rest is on long-term lease.

Rob is a member of BASE Ireland and a member of the Cahir or ‘Survivors’ discussion group. Farming alongside his father Billy, they also lamb around 150 ewes and run a calf-to-beef finishing system.

Andrew Bergin

Athy, Co Kildare

Andrew returns for a second year to the tramlines. Farming on light sandy loam soils in Athy, Andrew runs a direct-drill system.

He farms on mostly owned ground and is growing winter wheat for feed and winter barley and oats for seed.

This year, he plans to sow spring malting and seed barley, spring peas and a small amount of beans. The malt is destined for Boortmalt, the seed for Glanbia and the peas for Batchelors. He is a member of a long-running Athy tillage discussion group and BASE Ireland.

He is also involved with the Danú Farming project, which looks at the transition into biological farming.

Mark McCurdy

Bushmills, Co Antrim

Mark farms on medium loam soils just outside of Bushmills in Northern Ireland. This year he’s growing around 30 acres of winter barley and plans to sow 40 acres of spring barley, all of which goes for feed. He also grows 10 acres of earlies, 15 acres of late earlies and 105 acres of main crop potatoes.

He washes and packs his own produce and sells them as McCurdy Potatoes to local shops.

Running a plough-based system, most of the potato ground is taken on a conacre basis. Farming with his father Dan and brother Jonathan, he also finishes 140 beef cattle each year. He is also a member of the BDG potato group.

James O’Reilly

Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny

James splits his farm into five blocks, which each consist of either winter barley, winter oilseed rape, first winter wheat, spring or winter oats and first winter wheat again.

Most of the grain is destined for feed, the majority of which goes to Red Mills who they’ve been working with for years.

Around one third of the farm is owned while the remainder is on long-term leases. The farm has been min-tilled for 19 years and soil types range from medium to heavy loam with a high silt content.

He is a member of the long running Cahir or ‘Survivors’ discussion group. James farms alongside his parents Larry and Anne.

Vivion Tubritt

New Ross, Co Wexford

Farming on the foot of the Hook Head Peninsula, Vivion grows winter barley, wheat, oats and winter malting barley. He plans to sow spring malting barley and main crop potatoes this spring. Most of the grain goes for feed, while the malting crop goes to Boortmalt. He grows Rooster potatoes for O’Shea’s in Kilkenny and doesn’t store the crop. He runs both plough-based and min-till systems on a mixture of dry, sandy and Clonroche series soils. He generally grows 400 acres of cereals and 50 acres of potatoes each year, around half of which is on rented ground. He is a focus farm of the Boortmalt/Teagasc malting barley programme.

Chris Bourns

Eyrecourt, Co Galway

Chris farms on predominately heavy ground. He grows just under 600 acres of crops, including winter and spring barley and wheat, and around 170 acres of fodder beet. All crops are destined for feed. Around half of his ground is family owned and the rest is rented. He runs a plough-based system but aims to min-till some of his crops each year. Lisbeg Farm is a family run business and Chris farms alongside his wife Sarah, brother Andrew, father Richard and mother Deirdre. As well as tillage, they also lamb 1,500 ewes and finish 2,000 bulls under 16 months. Chris also covers around 250 aces of tillage contract work each year. He is an ITLUS member.

Paul O’Connell

Ballybrittas, Co Laois

This year Paul is growing winter barley and wheat. He plans to sow spring wheat and has decided to drop spring beans from the rotation.

All of the grain is dried on the farm and is destined for the feed market.

Farming alongside his father Dan, he operates a plough-based system, but some of his crops were min-tilled last year. Paul farms on a mixture of soil types ranging from light to heavy soils.

He farms on a lot of low-lying ground, which would have a high clay content. He is farming across 850 acres, with around a third of this on long-term leases.

Simon Best

Poyntzpass, Co Down

Simon returns to From the tramlines for a second year. Simon farms in Poyntzpass, which is located on the D own/Armagh border. Like most areas, it has enjoyed a kind winter and winter crops are looking good. Simon farms on medium loam soil growing winter wheat, winter and spring oats for Whites Oats, winter oilseed rape and spring beans. He farms alongside his father John and brother Rory across 1,200 acres and his farm is LEAF Marque accredited. They also run a pedigree Angus herd, a green waste composting business and produce willow for biomass. Simon is a member of a CAFRE Arable Business Development Group.

John Galvin

Croom, Co Limerick

John farms on a mixture of soil types ranging from free draining loam to heavy clay.

Farming just south of Limerick city, this year he’s growing winter barley and winter wheat and aims to sow spring barley and maize this spring. All crops are destined for feed and some of the crops will be crimped.

The crimped straw will also be put into a separate pit. John runs both a plough-based and min-till establishment system, depending on the year.

Around 30% of the land which he covers is rented. The farm is a family run business and they also finish cattle, including stores and calves.

Donal O’Keeffe

Delvin, Co Westmeath

Farming on medium loam soil in Westmeath, Donal’s winter cropping regime consists of winter wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape. He plans on sowing spring barley and maize this spring. A large proportion of these crops go for seed which requires rigorous machinery hygiene, record-keeping and weed control.

Donal runs a plough-based system but min-tills when conditions allow. He’s also trialling out a direct drill this spring.

He farms around 300 acres, half of which is owned and the remaining is share farmed. He also harvests around 200 acres on contract. He runs a calf-to-beef finishing system and is an ITLUS and IFA member.

Read more

From the tramlines year review: late start, tough middle, good end

From the tramlines: time for machinery maintenance and repairs

From the tramlines: spring ground work at a standstill
This week we talk to Ronan Snow from Dublin, David Moody from Donegal and Rob Coleman from Cork who have all been ground to a halt by the weather. Stephen Robb reports.

Ronan Snow

Swords Co Dublin

From highs of 16°C in February to sleet and snow in March, ground work has come to a halt for now explains Ronan.

In general, however, his winter crops are looking great and, as a result of the good autumn, plant counts are very high. Winter barley was sown at the end of September and the last of the wheat was sown at the start of November.

All ground was ploughed with two five-furrow Kverneland ploughs with no. 28 boards. One plough has conventional mouldboards while his newer one has slatted boards. Ronan feels the slatted boards suits the soil conditions he works with. Around 250kg/ha of 0:10:20 was broadcast onto the seedbed before drilling with his 4m mounted Maschio Gaspardo air drill on Suffolk coulters.

This year he’s growing Cassia, Tower and Carnival winter barley and Bennington, Thorpe, Costello and Graham winter wheat. The barley was dressed with Redigo Deter as Ronan’s proximity to the Irish Sea creates a favourable environment for aphids. His barley crop also received an aphicide (Sparviero 50ml/ha) in November.

Ronan Snow applying Proline (0.35l/ha) and the boron trace element spray Amino B (3.0l/ha) to his winter oilseed rape earlier this week.

They also received an autumn application of Bulldog (3.2l/ha) and Stride DFF (0.16l/ha). Winter wheat received Naceto (0.3l/ha) with the exception of late-drilled crops which got Allister Flex (1.0L/ha) in January. Some crops may need a spring herbicide to clean up cleavers. Some crops received another 250kg/ha of 0:7:30 in February depending on soil and crop requirements. This left no tracking marks in the field.

Around 50ac is ploughed so far and he’s planning to sow Planet malting barley for Loughran Family Malt in that ground in the coming weeks. Two weeks ago his winter barley and oilseed rape received Piamon Urea (33%N+12%S) at 125kg/ha and 250kg/ha respectively.

Last month he sowed 25ac of Fanfare spring beans and plans to sow another 25ac before the end of the month. With a TGW of 643g, he used a sowing rate of 240kg/ha. The crop received a herbicide application of Nirvana (3.5l/ha) and Centium (0.1l/ha) two days after sowing.

David Moody

St Johnston, Co Donegal

Ground is wet again in Donegal thanks to two weeks of broken weather, says David. Spreading and ploughing in the last of the slurry is top of his to-do list but this will have to wait until conditions improve. Ideal sowing conditions last autumn meant he could get through work in a timely manner. Sowing was completed by 22 October with the exception of ground after potatoes which was sown by 1 November.

David Moody's Tower winter barley recieved 110kg N/ha during the good weather in February.

He’s growing the hybrid winter barley variety Bazooka and the two-row variety Tower. The seed was dressed with Kinto but he feels there was no need for Redigo Deter as BYDV pressure in the northwest is generally low. With the exception of seeding rates, both crops are managed the same.

He’s also growing the winter wheat varieties Bennington, Costello and the UK variety Shabras. He was impressed with the performance of Rockefeller in 2018 but he couldn’t secure seed for this season. He’s also growing the UK winter oat variety Mascani.

All the winter crop ground received an application of slurry before ploughing. They run two five-furrow Kverneland ploughs separately, one of which is on no. 8 boards while the other is on no. 28.

His winter barley and wheat received autumn herbicide of Firebird (0.25l/ha) and DFF (0.15L/ha) while all crops received an application of Mantrac manganese (3.0kg/ha).

There was a good window for early spring work in February, says David. Three weeks ago he applied 80kg N/ha (urea 46%) to his winter wheat and oats, while the barley received 110kg N/ha. Fertiliser applications were one month earlier this year compared to 2018. Crops on ground prone to manganese deficiency also received an application of Mantrac. Crops are now a healthy green colour.

Early in February he ploughed half of his spring crop ground. Most of this ground received slurry. He generally burns the headlands off with glyphosate (1.5l/ha) in advance of ploughing. David intends to start sowing as soon as the weather settles.

Rob Coleman

Castlemagner, Co Cork

The weather has taken a turn for the worse in north Cork, with windy and wet conditions bringing field work to a standstill. Since the start of March, over 70mm of rain has fallen on Rob’s farm.

Winter crops are in great condition, albeit some varieties are a little too advanced and lush, Rob explains. This was helped in part by the mild winter and the excellent conditions last autumn. Sowing began on 27 September and was finished by 12 October.

Last year Rob ran three establishment systems. One-third of his winter crop area was sown by means of conventional min-till using a 4m Kockerling Ultima drill into a disced stale seedbed. One-third of the crops were established through broadcasting the seed using his Rauch Axis fertiliser spreader on to a disced stale seedbed. That ground was then shallow cultivated and rolled. This method is generally used on stronger ground. The remaining third of winter crops were sown using a John Deere 750A zero-till drill. This was his first real year trialling direct drilling.

Pictured are Rob Coleman’s cattle grazing the last of his seven species cover crop mix before spring planting.


Rob explains that, as the winter was so favourable to crop growth, there’s little visible difference in crop growth so far between the establishment methods.

This year he’s growing hybrid Quadra and Belfry winter barley which are now around GS31. He’s also growing Graham, Costello, Conros and Cellule winter wheat. Cellule, which is an early variety, is at GS31 already.

The seed wasn’t treated with Redigo Deter and he hasn’t applied an aphicide on any crops so far. He applied Firebrid (0.3l/ha) either pre- or post-emerge on his winter barley depending on the crop and Alister Flex (1.0l/ha) with biopower on the winter wheat last autumn.

All of the winter crops have received 58kg N/ha (stabilised urea 38%N + 7% S) at the end of February. Wind has proven a challenge when spreading this year. Nearly all of the cover crops are now grazed to make way for spring sowing.

“We’re in for a very busy period during the next spell of weather.”

Read more

Potato growers to lose key active for battling wireworms

€1.7m paid to farmers in fodder scheme

Irish Farmers Journal weather with Sencrop

Watch: From the tramlines returns for 2019

Irish Farmers Journal weather with Sencrop
A new initiative by the Irish Farmers Journal will see the development of a weather station network across the country.

As part of the 2019 From the tramlines season, the Irish Farmers Journal will place weather stations on each of the tramline farms. The weather stations will be provided by Sencrop, a French based ag-tech start-up, and the weather data will be available to every reader of the Irish Farmers Journal through our website.

Two stations will be placed on each farm.

The Raincrop station records rainfall, temperature and humidity while the Windcrop station records wind speed, gusts, wind direction, air temperature and humidity.

The stations transmit data wirelessly using the low bandwidth wireless network Sigfox, which has a good level of coverage in Ireland. The data is transmitted every six seconds and the lithium battery on the stations lasts for four years.

The stations are specifically designed for outdoors and will be installed in grower’s fields. They are also equipped with GPS transmitters capable of sending station movement alerts.

Live and historical weather data

All of the weather data will be available to readers through the Irish Farmers Journal website and will also be available to our tramline growers through their smartphone, tablet, or computer. Live data from each station will be beamed directly to our website but readers will also be able to access historical data ranging from six hours to 12 months.

This data will help provide context to readers for our tramline growers’ updates but will also serve as a means of comparing and contrasting weather conditions across all of the station locations.

Over the next week we will be installing the stations on each farm and in the coming weeks, readers will be able to view the data on the weather page in the Irish Farmers Journal Knowledge Hub.


This new initiative is thanks to Sencrop, who have over 3,500 weather stations placed across Europe. Sencrop is an ag-tech start-up founded in 2016.

They design and market agricultural IoT, data collection equipment and agri-environmental data management software for precision farming across Ireland, UK and Europe.

The company has won numerous awards including the SIMA innovation award in 2017 and a SIVAL silver award in 2019 and has recently launched its new Leafcrop sensor which measures leaf wetness, temperature, and humidity in fields. The stations are available in Ireland through the Sencrop website.

Read more

Whiskey will be a big part of tourism trail – Tánaiste

New tool to help EU farmers to manage nutrients in development

Grain prices: a spring of discontent for farmers over imports
While the weather has been relatively good for tillage work in many areas up to this week, there is a growing level of grower discontent in the sector.

As grain prices endure a considerable dip, growers are rightly asking why, despite their obvious willingness to make a significant contribution towards the provision of fodder to help alleviate last year’s problems for the livestock sector, the industry has turned its back on native grains in favour of cheaper imports.

At a time when more and more questions are being asked about the source and nature of the ingredients which go into Irish food products, we can see feed imports push up to around 4.5 million tonnes.

We hear concerns over climate change and the need for a green image, while some of our feed is being imported from the other side of the world.

In this era of carbon footprint and climate change, we have a substantial amount of by-products from the vegetable oils industry being imported and used, despite international concerns about the implication of these industries in the destruction of rain forests.

While cheap imports will be used to complement higher native prices, the almost minuscule level of native grain use must leave us in a weak position for our exports

Do we not realise that we are being placed under the microscope for our sourcing of proteins and other feed grains? Whether we like it or not the international community are looking in and watching what we are doing, as distinct from what we say we are doing.

These factors are undoubtedly contributing to the lack of demand for native grains, following the smallest harvest we have witnessed for decades.

While cheap imports will be used to complement higher native prices, the almost minuscule level of native grain use must leave us in a weak position for our exports.

It seems like we are operating under a flag of convenience with regard to our marketing story.

However, a tillage industry will not survive producing straw alone. Without acknowledgement of what fully traceable grains do for the integrity of our ‘green food’, our industry is vulnerable.

Not just feed

These comments are not confined to feed grains. In recent years, we have seen an increased willingness to import more raw materials for the malting/drinks industry. Can we afford to have any industry using an Irish image and the Irish name to market its products, vulnerable to imports?

Genetic advances in the fine-tuning of modern malting varieties are mainly applicable to the drinks sector.

But it is the grower who is paying for this through plant breeders’ rights on seed. Yet this technology is being used to increase the amount of non-malt ingredients in drink.

There has been much talk about traceability and assurance for many decades and much of the ‘Irish image’ of our exports is built around this

We have the potential to support a good drinks industry, which is a thriving sector, but this is being diluted by its stated willingness to use imports.

Farmers across the southeast report the significant daily traffic, transporting imported maize to most of our major distilling businesses.

There has been much talk about traceability and assurance for many decades and much of the ‘Irish image’ of our exports is built around this.

But it seems to most people that traceability ends at the manufacturer’s gate. This comment is not confined to the tillage sector but again it adds to the vulnerability of our image when we cannot substantiate our claims.

Such problems are not confined to malting. It is ironic that in all the concerns expressed over Brexit, no one has seen fit to be concerned about flour imports.

We no longer have an operative commercial flour milling sector in the country. For the past few decades virtually all our flour requirements have come from imports and virtually all of these come from Britain.

An assumption that flour tankers will continue to roll in from Britain or elsewhere in the event of a hard border may be mistaken.

Our requirements in flour are different to many other countries as we, like the British, use the Chorleywood baking process which requires a flour spec that is not so readily available elsewhere. The one flour mill we do still have produces flour for the retail market here but it has reportedly stopped buying Irish wheat.

Time to rethink

The tillage sector has been willing to play its part in helping to ensure the provenance and authenticity of its products, which are ingredients for many different sectors.

But for those who believe that the consumer is not capable of asking sensible questions, think again.

There are increasing concerns about the use of GM ingredients in livestock feeds. And while there may be no good reason why this should be a problem, the fact that we are not open about what we do leaves our industry vulnerable.

With regard to native non-GM protein, there are only a few players making a visible effort to put a price in place to help secure native protein production.

While we must all accept the relative cheapness and value that imported maize offers currently, we are increasingly vulnerable when imports dwarf native grains in the formulation of rations.

Grass fed is an admirable concept, but it gets difficult to stand it up when feed imports have increased from around 1.5mt to about 4.5mt last year.

Is Glanbia the only company attempting to stand up this claim to scrutiny through its use of its closed-loop systems?

Do consumers accept that the only requirement for the manufacture of Irish whiskey is that it be distilled and matured in Ireland?

Do they not have a belief that there is a considerable amount of native ingredients involved also?

Tillage cannot continue to be the fall guy, that enables the rest of the industry to keep face.