Tillage farmers in Northern Ireland are reporting excellent germination rates and plant counts in spring cereal crops that were established over the past month.

For the most part, crops were sown out into well prepared seed beds.

The germinating plants received rain when they needed it and the accompanying warmer temperatures have driven growth rates forward at a more than acceptable rate.

Many crops have pushed through the four leaf stage, with the majority of growers applying a herbicide over the past few days.

Spring cereal crops

There is strong evidence to suggest that a significant proportion of spring barley and wheat crops have been rolled in order to boost tillering rates.  

A fundamental question now confronts cereal growers with spring barley and wheat crops – should plant growth regulator be applied to manage straw length and reduce the risk of lodging?

The jury is out, however, on whether spring cereals should be treated with an insecticide.

Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) is not normally that big of a challenge in Northern Ireland.

However, given the significant incidence of the problem further south this year, it really is a case of growers walking individual crops and checking for the presence of aphids.

It is now predicted that, assuming weather patterns hold to a more seasonal norm, it should be possible to get most late planted spring cereal crops harvested before the end of August.

While yields will not be much to write home about, such an eventuality would allow cereal growers to get their 2024/25 planting season off to a positive start.

Meanwhile, most of Northern Ireland’s winter cereal crops have improved dramatically, in response to the warmer and drier conditions of recent weeks.

In many instances, it will be a case of breaking even at best, and this is the scenario facing cereal growers who drilled crops on their own land.

Those who rented ground last autumn are, almost certainly, looking at the prospect of significant losses.

The option of whole cropping winter wheat and barley is one that many cereal growers in Northern Ireland may look at seriously over the coming weeks.

Given the shortfall in silage stocks that impacted across the entire island of Ireland last winter, all forage sources should be worth real money throughout the 2024/25 feeding season.

The only factor that might make cereal farmers with thin crops of winter wheat and/or barley push on to the combine, is the price of straw.

Recent years have seen straw significantly outstrip grass silage prices on a dry matter (DM) basis. It is now regarded as a vital component in all total mixed rations (TMR), as well as remaining an important livestock bedding material.