Why have commentators been so reticent about giving their opinion on how the harvest was working out?
e know we have plenty of problems to deal with in the tillage sector, as well as in the wider agricultural sector and in the economy as a whole.
Nevertheless, this was a great harvest, or as one colleague put it, it’s up there with 1983 or ’84. A combination of good crops being harvested in glorious weather and achieving a high price… it’s what we dream of as we put in our order for seed at the start of the growing season.
We got the elusive three factors, this year and also last year. So why the reluctance to shout it from the rooftops?
I think that as a sector, we are becoming ever more conditioned to look at the glass half empty, to the extent that we now look out for the glass a quarter empty.
This negative attitude is doing us no favours. The general population have the lowest appreciation of agriculture and food production of any time in the history of mankind.
A share of the fault of that attitude falls on the sector in constantly coming out with bad news and prophesies of doom.
It seems that the largest population of humans the world has ever seen, fed the largest quantities of the cheapest and safest food ever produced, don’t like their buzz being wrecked with the negative vibes from moany farmers.
But this is our problem now and we have to change the messaging.
An example is the recent unholy mess that occurred surrounding the new regulations around stubble cultivations.
This costs money, in diesel, in wearing steel, in labour. Of that there is no doubt.
But some crops of winter barley this year didn’t perform this year like they should. Poor crops leave nitrogen behind in the soil, especially if the cause of the poor crop is to do with root uptake (caused by Take-all) or low nutrient efficiency from low pH or drought.
Now add to the mix very warm soils that got a large dollop of moisture on the August bank holiday. This turbo-charged soil bacteria into action that break down soil nitrogen to available nitrogen, that is now at risk to loss from the soil.
Those that had their stubble cultivation done, however, had germinating weeds/volunteers to mop up that available nitrogen. You can see it in the disturbed stubbles now turning a luxuriant green.
The nitrogen in these green weeds is now safe from loss to the environment — a win for water quality, the purpose of the regulations.
More importantly, this greenery will break down again next spring and become available to next year’s crop. It will act as a free nitrogen top dressing next April or May.
Teagasc figures put the amount of N captured at 50kgN/ha. That’s a bag and a half of CAN an acre. Today, that’s €75/ac.
If ever there was a win-win to shout from the rooftops, this is one. Not likely.
Richard Hackett is an agronomist based in North Co Dublin and is a member of the ACA and ITCA
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