A strate­gic spring wheat pol­icy can re­duce our re­liance on im­ported grains

Irish Independent - Farming - - OUR FARM - RICHARD HACK­ETT

WITH the longer days and, hope­fully, slightly warmer tem­per­a­tures it’s rapidly get­ting towards time to head back to the fields.

Given the poor weather we have en­dured since last July, in many cases there is a lot of work to get through and great en­thu­si­asm about fi­nally get­ting out of the yard to get some ‘real work’ done.

Given the weather and the neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment, it is sur­pris­ing how much win­ter ce­re­als were ac­tu­ally sown last au­tumn. In gen­eral, th­ese have come through the win­ter in over­all very good nick.

How­ever there are still a lot of empty fields await­ing spring crop­ping and de­ci­sions are im­mi­nent.

The in­tro­duc­tion of the pro­tein pay­ment a num­ber of years ago has yet again demon­strated the will­ing­ness of farm­ers to re­act pos­i­tively to pol­icy mea­sures.

Beans

The acreage of beans has in­creased and com­pounders have mod­i­fied their fa­cil­i­ties to han­dle this in­creased area.

More acres stim­u­late more agro­nomic re­search, more va­ri­ety eval­u­a­tion and more at­ten­tion to de­tail. The long-term out­look for this crop is now se­cure.

Spring rape is never a safe bet as too much of the pro­duc­tion cy­cle is not con­trol­lable.

But the price re­mains at­trac­tive and the crop opens up a good ro­ta­tion slot. As a crop choice, it has to be con­sid­ered.

A longer term bet is spring oats in the ro­ta­tion slot. Yields can be er­ratic, the pro­duc­tion cy­cle is long which can de­lay har­vest in some years, straw can be hard to save and oats can be a hard sell in the open mar­ket.

How­ever, it ap­pears there are new and ex­cit­ing va­ri­eties in the pipeline that fi­nally have the dual char­ac­ter­is­tics of qual­ity and quan­tity.

In the search for a vi­able and sus­tain­able Ir­ish com­pound feed, oats has to be a valu­able in­gre­di­ent as it brings di­gestible fi­bre and lower pro­cess­ing costs to the mix.

The long-term out­look for oats is good, but only if it’s pro­moted.

There is a crop that has the po­ten­tial to meet a wide range of long-term ob­jec­tives, but is cur­rently a poor re­la­tion in terms of devel­op­ment.

It’s not too long ago that spring wheat used to go head-to-head with win­ter wheat in terms of prof­itabil­ity: a slight re­duc­tion in yield could be com­pen­sated for with a higher qual­ity bonus.

Nowa­days, the qual­ity bonus is gone, but more im­por­tantly, the crop just won’t yield. Ap­prox­i­mately 10t/ha used to be a re­al­is­tic tar­get for spring wheat in the right slot — sown in early spring af­ter beet or pota­toes.

In re­cent years, though, hit­ting 7 t/ha is a strug­gle. It won’t tiller, the grain fill pe­riod waits un­til the day lengths have dis­ap­peared and the weather has bro­ken. This means the har­vest turns into a sal­vage op­er­a­tion of green grain, greener straw and burn­ing com­bine belts.

Some­thing seems to have gone wrong with the crop, and strate­gi­cally, this has to be ad­dressed.

If we are to max­imise the use of or­ganic ma­nures in crop pro­duc­tion be­ing pro­duced from our ever in­creas­ing live­stock pop­u­la­tions, we need a nu­tri­ent-hun­gry spring crop to com­ple­ment nu­tri­ent-hun­gry win­ter crops to avoid ex­ces­sive stor­age re­quire­ments.

Spring wheat can meet that re­quire­ment.

If the inces­sant march of sep­to­ria re­sis­tance wreaks its ul­ti­mate re­venge on win­ter wheat pro­duc­tion or the cost of sep­to­ria con­trol ren­ders the crop un­vi­able long be­fore dis­ease it­self does the dam­age, spring wheat could be called upon to re­claim its former man­tle of the ul­ti­mate starch pro­ducer.

And if Brexit wreaks its worst case havoc, we could quite eas­ily find our­selves in a French Rev­o­lu­tion sce­nario of hav­ing no bread to feed our­selves.

Milling wheat

Cur­rently, not only do we not grow our own wheat for our own bread re­quire­ments, we don’t even mill our own flour to feed our­selves in this coun­try. It’s prac­ti­cally all im­ported from the UK. In 2019, this could sud­denly look quite a fool­ish pol­icy.

Spring wheat is the best op­tion we have for qual­ity milling wheat pro­duc­tion.

It’s not too long ago that win­ter bar­ley was the poor re­la­tion in terms of crop out­put. It was the pre­serve of the large grower with in­suf­fi­cient com­bine ca­pac­ity.

The in­dus­try re­sponded, va­ri­eties ad­vanced, pro­duc­tion tech­niques were im­proved and win­ter bar­ley has be­come the shin­ing light of the sec­tor. The same needs to be done with spring wheat.

We don’t of­ten talk of a ce­real crop in Ire­land as a ‘strate­gic crop’, but with the range of po­ten­tial risks this coun­try is cur­rently ex­posed to, a strate­gic crop ap­proach is some­thing we badly need.

SPRING WHEAT COULD RE­CLAIM ITS MAN­TLE AS THE UL­TI­MATE STARCH PRO­DUCER

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