Cereal prices continue to rise and the Irish tillage sector is in a buoyant mood. The dry autumn saw winter plantings in Ireland return to normal levels. Some land that was taken out of tillage will return to production this year on the strength of the improved markets.

However, the increased variable costs take some of the glint off the silver lining. Fertiliser prices have risen significantly since this time last year. Whether this continues to be the case remains to be seen, but now may be the best time to lock in to fertiliser contracts to better control your variable costs.

Propino, Frontier and Quench will be my spring barley varieties planted this year. Early sowing is the key to high yields, but with no bird repellent seed treatment available, it is difficult sowing early in the spring. March remains the ideal month for crop establishment, maximising the crops potential and, ideally, I would like to plant from 7-22 March.

The fodder rape cover crops will be sprayed off with Roundup Gold (glyphosate) and incorporated as soon as it is dry enough. Although the fodder rape has kept the soil structure in place, the pass of the cultivator prior to drilling helps the soil dry out, incorporates air and raises the temperature of the soil.

I will also be spreading granulated calcium lime. This application will bridge the gap for the calcium limestone applied in the autumn that is not yet acting fully. This will raise the pH and calcium levels of the soil, bringing them into optimum balance for the spring barley crop.

Winter crops reappeared from under their blanket of snow unscathed. The Mascani oats – a true winter variety – withstood the freezing conditions as its autumn growth concentrated on the root development rather than leaf development. Its spring counterparts, meanwhile, have suffered badly in other areas.

Farmer Focus Aable: Philip Reck