College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprises (CAFRE) crops specialist, Leigh McClean highlighted a number of priorities for arable farmers in Northern Ireland.

His advice reflects the prospects of high pressure building and the weather improving over the coming days.

He suggested that while growers are used to coping with late spring catch up, there are still a few things worth considering now in advance of the rush that any improvement in weather will bring.

McClean said: “Despite wet ground and slow growth, winter crop development is still progressing. 

“Where sprays are yet to be applied, particularly herbicides and growth regulator on winter barley, growers should keep a close watch on crops and aim to apply by the latest safe application timing to avoid crop damage. 

“If ground conditions mean that’s not possible, it may be necessary to switch products which are crop safe at a later growth stage.

“Nitrogen (N) is now critical on winter barley and where none has been applied yet, we may have to accept a degree of field damage to get crops fed, as some are in the stem extension phase when crop demand for nutrients is highest. 

“When ground conditions allow, growers should apply the bulk of the N to these crops at the start as there is little point delaying or splitting applications at this stage.”


Very little spring drilling has occurred in Northern Ireland as of yet, apart from some late drilled winter wheat and spring beans. 

“Every effort should be made to apply pre-emergent herbicide to the beans. If they are emerging or close to emerging, crop damage can occur and post-emergent product containing bentazone will be the only herbicide option to control broad leaved weeds. 

“The spectrum of weeds controlled by this active is very limited compared to pre-emergent sprays and crop stunting is common, therefore only apply if susceptible weeds are present.”

Cereal growers will be fully aware of the reality that, as the season gets later the yield potential, and hence profitability, of spring barley diminishes. 

However, experience has shown that if spring barley gets off to the right start with no setbacks and favourable summer weather it can compensate well. 

McClean continued: “Decisions on farm should be made on a field-by-field basis to decide which ones are worth sowing.

“Where forage stocks need replenished, it could be worth reconsidering grass fields originally destined for ploughing as additional grass and silage may be needed on some farms.”

Fallow is still permitted under Northern Ireland’s basic payment scheme and can be an option, particularly where a field will need remedial action such as drainage. 

In these circumstances, cover crops or short-term fodder crops, such as kale sown in early summer could help make up the fodder balance and still allow an autumn sown cereal entry later in the year.  

Where soil type is suitable and free draining, traditionally later sown forage crops such as maize or fodder beet could be a possibility where a market can be identified. 

“Growers should carefully consider these crops, as they come with a risk of late harvest, impacting on following crops in the rotation.

“Where spring cereals are to be sown seed rates should be increased as the season gets later and the proportion of fertiliser to be applied at planting should also be increased,” McClean explained.