Cropping in a difficult Autumn

Date published: 09 November 2023

Record rainfall in October has exacerbated problems on arable farms caused by the wet summer. Potato growers have been more severely affected by the wet October as harvest had been making slow progress and was already behind for most farms across Northern Ireland.

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This has now come to a complete halt as a result of the rain in the last week of October particularly in the south and east of the province. 

While there is little growers can do but wait until ground conditions improve there are some points to consider while they wait.  Firstly, while the water is still evident in the fields growers should mark out the waterlogged areas so that when harvesting recommences the extent of these areas will be clear and these potatoes if possible should be kept separate from those harvested from drier areas.  Attention should also be kept on already harvested stocks. 

There have been few good conditions for harvesting potatoes this year and there already many reports of soft rots in potatoes already in store.  Growers are advised not to try to grade out rotting potatoes as this will only spread infection through the rest of the stock.  Instead ventilate at risk potatoes, ideally with positive ventilation systems, to dry and mummify the rotting potatoes.  All stocks of potatoes should have samples taken from them and placed in a Hot Box (25 C for 3or more days under high Humidity).  This will speed the expression of any potential infections ordamage and allow growers to assess the potential for long term storage or to prioritise risky stocks for quicker marketing.

Cereal crops have virtually all been harvested now through difficult conditions with only some small areas remaining. Some autumn drilling has been achieved. Earlier drilled crops have emerged quickly due to warm soil temperatures but heavy rain and flooding will have impacted establishment on more recently drilled cereals.   Given the ground conditions as we move into November there may be limited opportunity for any further drilling this season. 

However, if suitable conditions arise consider the time of drilling and ground conditions and increase seed rates accordingly to achieve target plant populations. Latest safe sowing dates for Wheat varieties are detailed in the AHDB Recommended variety list available online. Where farms have seed not sown this should be stored in a dry cool place and may still be suitable for drilling next year, although germination tests will be needed and depending on the result seed rates can be adjusted. Any crops severely affected by the wet will have to wait until early spring for further assessment and decision making. 

If ground conditions improve effort should be made to apply residual herbicides on viable stands where this has not already been done as this may be the only option for grassweed control in some crops.

Following excessive rainfall is a good time to check there has been no ingress of water to grain stores.  Check for hot spots in stored grain and deal with promptly by ventilating or drying if necessary.  Make sure gutters and drains are cleared to avoid further problems developing. 

Notes to editors: 

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