Choosing wheat over barley

While last year’s barley crop did very well overall, the predictions made on yield by Michael Foley of Brett Bros, my seed provider, proved very accurate.

Michael had suggested last April that two of the fields I ploughed were probably more suited to wheat than barley. He based his analysis and prediction on the types of clay present, explaining that heavier ground, while not incapable of growing barley, wasn’t entirely the most suitable.

He suggested that in future wheat or oats would possibly be a better option.

But I was left with no choice last year but to go with barley throughout — because I didn’t my plough until late March, and it was into April before I got the ploughing finished. The crop did well, but the average of 3.3 tonnes to the acre masked the fact that yield fell below three tonnes in the two fields highlighted by Michael.

Okay, last year was exceptional, with crops yielding well all across the country, but this is a different year, and should weather conditions not be as favourable, common sense dictates that you take the advice of the man with the experience.

My plan for the ploughing was that once weather and ground conditions improved enough to allow me to travel on some of my heavier clays, I would cease operations in the naturally drier fields, and concentrate on the heavy ground.

I also decided to expand the area under grain. One of the new additions would be an eight-acre field I had let out in new grass in the spring of 2008, but which was effectively destroyed in the wet summer of the same year. So badly had the field been poached in ’08 and again in ’09, that by 2010 it was beginning to grow rushes, and by the autumn of last year, I viewed it as a total loss.

Getting a sprayer in 10 days ahead of the ploughing, I sprayed off the headlands of the stubble fields, and also wiped out the rushes. Having ploughed 18 acres of the drier lighter ground, I took a chance and moved into the first of what I call the “low bogs” — two fields that you could never call simple.

The ground was heavy and sometimes sticky, which meant that it turned over slab-like as opposed to crumbly now and then. Couple that with a good smattering of stones of all sizes, and it was great fun!

It was noticeable, however, that the clay six inches down was quite dry.

To be honest, I wondered about that, and how the country might fare, should the remainder of the year not see any substantial rain.

That maybe’s in the future, but as last weekend approached, I was more concerned that I might not have all the stones lifted in advance of the arrival of Liam Curry for the setting. I and the man who was helping me spent three days loading one trailer after another. At the end of the first day, my fingers and arms felt like they had been stretched on a rack! Then, on Friday afternoon at about four o’clock, there came a bust of heat that was unnatural. Sweat poured down our faces, and the shirts stuck to our backs. My helper, an experienced campaigner, reached in through the door of the tractor, turned off the engine, and took out his cigarettes. Passing one to me, he sat on the step, and I on the edge of the bucket of the loader. We rested, smoked and reminisced.

A conversation in a boggy field about stones, drains and the generations who were there before us in that same field on similar missions.

We finished the job, and by Monday evening, the Curry brothers had all the wheat in.


Frits Potgieter is General Manager with Muckross Park Hotel and Spa.You've Been Served: Frits Potgieter, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa

More From The Irish Examiner