Little to no winter crop has been sown out on farms, according to College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) crop specialists.

This is a direct consequence of the atrocious weather that characterised the harvest of 2023 in Northern Ireland.

CAFRE’s Leigh McClean said: “Where sowing did take place, establishment ranges from good to thin and patchy, leaving growers wondering what to do next.

“Assuming plant counts are relatively even across the field, Teagasc estimates if they are below 90 in wheat, oats and 6-row barley and below 150/m2 in 2-row barley, resowing is worth considering, if seed is available.

“However, if the decision is made to resow, the replacement spring crop must cover the costs already incurred establishing the winter crop, needing to yield approximately 0.5t/ac better to leave you in the same place financially.”

According to McClean, where yield potential is lower, cost savings are possible by applying less total nitrogen (N) and reducing fungicide spend, as disease pressure should be lower.

He explained: “Conversely, herbicide spend could be higher as thin crops do not compete with weeds as well as a thick stand of plants.

“For now, early N is the priority, particularly on thin crops to encourage plants to produce more shoots, while still at the tillering stage. Any reduction in N can be made in later splits.

“Winter barley needs at least one third of its total N during late tillering and, winter wheat the same proportion before the end of March.

“Growers should include at least 20-30kg/ha sulphur in early fertiliser dressings, while also topping up with phosphate and potash,” he added.


For outstanding weed control, the CAFRE agronomist is advising growers to prioritise winter barley, as the few grass weed herbicides effective for this crop only work on small grass weeds.

“Generally, latest application dates for these products are earlier than for winter wheat,” he continued.

“As a consequence, growers should consult product labels for latest application dates or relevant growth stages,” he added.

Meanwhile, the weather continues to hamper field work on all tillage farms.

The significant drop in temperatures, recorded since the tail end of last week, has hampered crop growth rates.

However, of more significance, is the very heavy rain forecast for most of the coming week.

The accompanying deterioration in ground conditions will further hamper the start of the spring planting season on many farms.