Topping up minerals
MANGANESE, copper and sulphur all tend to need topping up to avoid deficiencies, and manganese seed dressing is a must.
Excess molybdenum, which leads to toxicity problems in the cattle, locks up the copper, explains Robert.
The cation/anion balance system has also been investigated, but for now appears over-complicated and costly.
"We have been using leaf tests and tinkering with fertiliser inputs for about four years."
This seasons main cereal fertiliser choice was Hydros Complex N, P, K & S compound based on sulphate of potash rather than muriate.
"It is more expensive, but the potash is more readily available in spring. It also avoids applying chlorine, which is said to kill and leach out beneficial bacteria."
Barley grain target yield is 7.9t/ha (3.2t/acre) which merits top-dressing to 175kg/ha (140 units/acre) with a urea-based product. Ammonium nitrate is not available in Northern Ireland.
Straw is always valuable in the region. "Last year we got 11-14 round bales an acre and they are selling for £7-£10 each."
Weeds present few problems, isoproturon/diflufenican mixes usually sufficing in the barley. But autumn anti-BYDV spraying is vital and a three-spray fungicide programme is usually justified on winter barley, says Robert, who hopes to become BASIS-qualified next year.
Rhynchosporium tends to be the main disease concern, and chemicals are bought from the cheapest source. *