The growth and development of cereal crops in the first 30 days after planting are crucial factors that determine the final yields. This was the key message delivered by independent agronomist and soil specialist, Neil Fuller, during his presentation at the recent Seedtech Open Day. Fuller emphasized that winter barley crops have the potential to yield up to 24t of dry matter per hectare, but this outcome relies on the plants reaching the third-leaf stage or the 30-day mark. Weather conditions play a significant role in determining crop performance during this period, as the crop may lose half of its yield potential if unfavorable weather persists. After the 30-day mark, crop management strategies need to be implemented to minimize further losses.
Genetic improvement has greatly enhanced the performance potential of modern cereal varieties, impacting crop yields and resistance to viral and fungal attacks. However, the first 30 days of growth are crucial in determining the overall performance of the crop. Fuller explained that encouraging root growth is essential during this period. Traditional ploughing allows oxygen to penetrate the soil, facilitating the mineralization of organic matter. This enables newly planted crops to directly access nitrogen and phosphorous, leading to enhanced root and plant growth.
Farmers interested in transitioning to min-till or direct drilling establishment systems can take advantage of various growth-boosting opportunities. One option is to apply small quantities of protected phosphorous and nitrogen into the seed bed, with an application rate of approximately 10kg/ha. Coating cereal seeds with live bacteria is another option, as it establishes a symbiotic relationship between the seed and bacteria. The growing plant provides the bacteria with a form of probiotic while the bacteria help protect against soil pathogens and promote root growth.
Fuller also highlighted the challenge of incorporating large amounts of straw into the soil across Ireland’s tillage area. Up to 70,000 hectares of straw will be chopped and incorporated in the coming weeks, which can quickly deplete the levels of plant-available nutrients for the subsequent crop. Specifically, zinc, manganese, and phosphorous levels may be affected. One solution is to treat seeds with the necessary nutrients before planting to ensure their availability.
Neil Fuller’s presentation emphasized the critical importance of the first 30 days of growth for cereal crops. Weather conditions, genetic improvement, and appropriate crop management strategies play significant roles in determining final yields. Farmers can also explore various techniques such as applying protected phosphorous and nitrogen, coating seeds with live bacteria, and treating seeds with essential nutrients to optimize crop performance.