21 February 1997

Ulster aim is higher


Growing bigger yields in a bid to cut unit costs of production is the goal of our 1997 barometer farmer for Northern Ireland.

Charles Abel reports

MILD winters, lots of rain and fertile soils define the cropping on Charles Davidsons Home Lea Farm at Ballywalter on the Ards Peninsula alongside Stranford Lough, south east of Belfast.

With 760mm (30in) of rainfall Ballywalter is one of the driest parts of Northern Ireland. When combined with a mild climate – the sea is less than two miles away – that and good medium loam soils, ensure a good yield potential.

The down side is disease and lodging, forcing delayed drilling, careful N usage and intensive use of fungicides and pgrs.

Mr Davidsons farm includes a dairy herd and 138ha (340 acres) of arable cropping on owned and rented land. A thriving merchanting business, North Down Grain, is run from the same site, with labour and equipment pooled into one specialist arable contracting operation covering 480ha (1200 acres).

The business also provides the farms agronomist and processes all the grain.

All crops are managed with the same goal in mind – top yields of high bushel weight grain.

"High yields are the key to keeping unit cost of production down," says Mr Davidson. "You really shouldnt be worrying so much about what it costs to grow the crop. Its not the cost an acre that matters, but the cost a tonne."

Straw is an added bonus, yielding about 25 round bales a ha (10/acre). All crops get three fungicide sprays. Pgrs go on at GS31 and again later according to the weather and crop.

Nitrogen is pushed hard. Soil reserves are high thanks to animal manures and grass leys in the rotation. Soil levels are checked each year. This spring winter barley will get 187-200kg N/ha (150-160 units N/acre) and winter wheat 12kg N/ha (10 units N/acre) more. Soil and tissue analysis dictate other nutrient inputs.

Anti-BYDV spraying with lambda-cyhalothrin (Hallmark) is routine in the autumn.

Improved winter barley varieties which match wheat for yield have seem the crop expand in recent years, says Mr Davidson. Six-row types have been dominant, mainly Manitou, with newcomer Muscat offering improved bushel weights. A Manitou/Pastoral mix is also being tried for the same reason, while Regina represents a foray into two-row winter barley.

Top wheat is Soissons, thanks to its 78-80kg/hl specific weight. "Brigadier is very mildew prone, which pulls its bushel down." Some Soissons goes for milling, but variable results mean feed is the main goal.

Spring barley fits the system, providing an opportunity for slurry spreading. Varieties are Riviera, plus some Chariot and Cooper.

Set-aside is usually sown to industrial rape, providing the flexibility to switch surplus area into conventional production according to set-aside needs. This year the ley rotation means it is all in grass reseed, with late manuring planned for April/May.

Weed control is straightforward, hinging around a hefty, but low cost, dose of isoproturon in the autumn, followed by a late spring spray according to survivors and spring germinators. Red deadnettle, chickweed, cleavers and spring germinating docks are tackled with half-rate mixes of – fluroxypr (Starane) or metsulfuron-methy (Ally), with or without ioxynil and bromoxynil.

With an average field size under 5ha (12 acres) and up to 27km (17 miles) between crops the 12m (39.4ft) Airtec sprayer is valued for its low application volumes.

Soils are mostly well bodied loams on Charles Davidsons Home Lea Farm, Ballywalter. But fields are small and up to 17 miles apart.

Home Lea Farm 1997 cropping and typical yields


Winter wheat (Brigadier, Hussar, Soissons)36(90)8.0(3.25)

Winter barley (Muscat, Manitou, Regina)67(165)8.0(3.25)

Spring barley (Riviera,Chariot, Cooper)26(65)4.9(2.0)


Grain quality in store is no problem for Charles Davidson. Ample space for drying and storage is provided by North Down Grain, the merchanting company developed alongside the farm.

&#8226 Max yield to cut unit cost.

&#8226 Plough and one-pass establishment.

&#8226 IPU plus late spring clean-up.

&#8226 Full fungicide programme to boost bushel weights.

&#8226 Regular nutrient checks.

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