winter crop

Winter Crop – Technical update spring 2021

Author: George Blackburn – Sales Manager 

Key management decisions regarding fertiliser and growth regulation in the early stages of the spring can have a major bearing on a crops final yield potential, especially winter barley. There is a marked increase in the overall acreage of winter cereals as sowing conditions were good in the early part of autumn 2020. The earlier drilled crops have better establishment without question and many did receive an autumn aphicide. Those that took the gamble of sowing earlier into better conditions seem to have been rewarded so far but time will tell on this.

Winter Barley

Winter barley crops are looking well in general and are well established with good plant count levels. Most were sowed before conditions got difficult in the autumn and have come through a wet winter in good condition. Any crops that have not received any Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) will require an application before early March as soon as conditions allow. Crops that received no autumn P and K will start to show deficiencies especially for when temperatures pick up and growth kicks in. Check your soil samples and tailor NPK compounds accordingly. Depending on soil indexes, winter barley crops need 30-35 units of P and 100 Units of K. 4 bags /acre of 10-8-25+S. Aim to have 75% of nitrogen out on winter barley by 20th of March. Disease levels are low, therefore growth regulation and tillering will be the focus of early chemical applications.

Winter Wheat

Winter wheat crops are generally good but there is some variation out in the fields. Crops sowed earlier that are well established are in good condition, with excellent plant stands. Crops sowed later into difficult seedbeds, especially after potatoes or fodder, beet have struggled to establish. The wet weather in the winter has taken its toll on these crops and they have also suffered a certain amount of slug damage in places. Chopped bean straw has also proven to be a suitable host for slugs and a few winter wheat crops after beans have had to be treated with slug pellets. Many crops after beans have a lot of bean volunteers coming through but these will be easily dealt with it in the spring and are serving a useful purpose, allowing water to infiltrate into soil down along its roots.

Overall, crops are generally good and winter wheat has an amazing ability to compensate even for sub- optimal plant stands come harvest , so I would be reluctant to tear up any crops, unless they have large areas missing completely. A little and often approach to Nitrogen (N) will help to maintain and produce tillers, allowing the crop to fill in. A notable attribute of Graham.  Aim to have balance of P and K out on wheat by mid-March. Apply accordingly to soil sample requirements. Aim to have the first main split of N on by the first week of April, and the final split on by the first week of May. The aim with wheat is not to have too big a canopy too early in the crop as this presents problems for growth regulation and disease control, particularly Septoria Tritici.

Winter Oats

There is a nice amount of winter oats in the ground and all have established well in general. The two varieties sown are Isabel and Husky, both spring varieties sowed in the autumn. As a result, crops are quite forward owing to the reasonably mild winter. Most crops are fine but some in more coastal milder areas are a touch forward. These crops will need careful attention in terms of growth regulation and rust control, especially in coastal areas in South Wexford. Crops will need to get their NPKS requirements by the middle of March with a blend such as 10-5-25 + S, which is ideal for winter oats at 4 bags/Acre.

Winter Oilseed Rape 

The acreage of oilseed rape is not huge this year but any crops that are planted are in very good condition. Most were sowed later than usual in the autumn, with most sowed the first week of September. All crops received some P at planting, which has made a big difference to rooting and overall establishment. Crops are even with good green area indexes. All crops have been treated with a fungicide for light leaf spot in the autumn and with Kerb (propyzamide) for grass weed control. Aim to get potash out on rape by mid-March, with 100-110 units. Rape has a high requirement for sulphur so the first main split of N should include ASN (26%N 15% S), with further applications of sulcan. Aim to apply the last 40-50 units of N on rape at the latest possible time, to ensure that the fertiliser spreader can physically travel through the crop.


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Fertiliser considerations to maximise Nutrient Use Efficiency

Author: Philip Kennedy – Area Manager (New Ross) 

To maximise the efficient use of our land, organic and chemical fertilisers is something that farmers must strive to achieve. In doing so, there are a number of factors that we must take into account. When growing any crop, it is critical to ensure that the soil pH is at the correct level. The optimum soil pH is 6.3 for grassland, preferably with 60-70% calcium and 10-20% magnesium.

Agri Lime  – the forgotten fertiliser

Lime is often a forgotten fertiliser that can greatly impact soil fertility. There is not a one size fits all when it comes to lime, therefore we must choose the correct lime to suit our soil type. In general, calcium lime is the only type required in Wexford due to the high levels of magnesium in soils. Remember; if you are at Index 4 for magnesium, that is as far as the scale goes. You could be index 6 or 8 if the scale were to continue, therefore, do not use dolomitic lime. Having the correct type of lime and pH for your soil will make your Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) fertiliser work far more efficiently and can release up to 80kg/Ha organic N.

Know your off-takes (P – Phosphorous, K – Potassium & S – Sulphur) 

When cutting grass silage, we must remember that each tonne of grass DM per ha will remove 4kg/HA of P (3.2 units/ac) and 25kg/ha of K (20units/ac). Within a grazing situation, these nutrients are recycled and replaced from the animal’s through animal manure.  Sulphur requirements will depend on your soil type. Light soils will leach sulphur out more than heavy soils. As a rule of thumb, match your P requirements to your S requirements. Avoid spreading large quantities of S during the breeding season in order not to lock up selenium and iodine. Smaller quantities can be spread, however if you need ASN (16N 14S) Kieserite (15Mg 20S) or Calcium Sulphate (33 CA 22S), it is recommended to wait until after the breeding season as these products contain high levels of sulphur.

Slurry Nutrient Values 

Slurry is an important source of organic fertilisation; therefore, it is important that we do not underestimate the slurry values. The typical nutrient value of a 7% DM meal feed cattle slurry per 1,000 gallons per acre, is 6N, 5P and 30K. However, when using a 3.5% DM slurry (this is a more accurate figure as we must take dairy washings and added water into account when using Low Emission Slurry Spreading), these nutrient values drop to 5N, 3P and 15K. Nitrogen efficiency in slurry is variable and depends on the method of application and the prevailing weather conditions. Warm dry weather combined with a splash plate application will lead to most of the N being lost into the atmosphere. When we talk about organic fertilisers, we must bear in mind that cutting grass silage with a low index for P and K will equate to lower slurry P and K values.


Total NPKS requirements will depend on your stocking rate and how much grass is required. To give an example, a stocking rate of 210kg organic N per ha will require circa, 100kg N, 9kg P and 10kg K per Ha more than a stocking rate in the 130 to 170 kg organic N per ha bracket. The below figures are given for an average stocking rate.


Phosphorus and potassium table


As the above table shows, continued soil analysis is vital in order to use fertilisers in the most cost-efficient way possible. P requirements are high in the spring, therefore, half your P requirements should be applied in spring with a little and often approach being taken throughout the remainder of the grazing season.


Due to the fact that we get luxury uptake of K in the spring, and in order to prevent cow health issues such as grass tetany, it is best to avoid large K applications in early season. Instead, it is best to build soil K levels later in the grazing season. Applying larger K applications can be useful at certain times of the year to reduce drought stress in crops during the summer months. For example, using the likes of an 18-6-12+S product on in early to mid-May will help maximise grass quality and reduce stem production due to drought. For low index K fields, spreading a compound such as 24-2.5-10+s during the summer months can be a useful way of applying the required amount.


A reasonable heavy crop of first cut silage will have 5 tonne of DM per ha, which roughly equates to 10 tonne of fresh grass per acre. On an index 3 P 3K soil, this will remove 20kg per ha p (16 units per acre) and 125kg per ha K (100 units per acre). For index 2 P, we must add 10kg P per ha (8units/ac) and for index 1, we must add 20kg P (16units/ac) per cut. For index 2 K, we must add 30kg/Ha (24 units/ac) and for index 1 we must add 60kg/Ha (48 units/ac) K.


Farmers are looking for better quality forage now and graze silage in early spring and still cut their crop in late May. For this system, 100kg N/Ha (80 units/ac) 20kg p (16 units/ac) 100kg K/Ha (80 units/ac) and 20kg/Ha S (16 units/ac) should be applied between slurry and chemical fertiliser. In the event of low index soils, the P can be addressed for the crop, however if large amounts of K are required, it is best to apply some of this in the autumn of the previous year. This will eliminate your silage being too high in K and causing hypocalcaemia in freshly calved cows. High K silage does not affect beef cattle or lactating cows. Muriate of potash 0-0-50 can be applied even in the closed period and is a good way of addressing low index k soils. Second and third cuts will also require 25kg N 4kg P 25kg K and 4kg S per ton of DM removed. When cutting out heavy paddocks, do not forget to replace the P and K removed. Applying a product like 15-3-20+S at 2-2.5 bags per acre should maintain your index in this situation. Alternatively; 2000 gallons/acre of slurry can replace the nutrients removed.


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Turnout to grass – Top tips for dairy cow nutrition

Author: Jack Scallan – Ruminant Feed Specialist 

Turning cows out to spring grass is a major event in the annual dairy calendar. At this stage, there are many physiological changes taking place in the cow, such as recovering from the calving event and restoring optimum BCS to reaching peak milk yield. These changes are also occurring at a time when dry matter intake does not meet energy demands otherwise known as NEB (Negative Energy Balance) and the diet itself is constantly changing.

So, here are a few tips worth considering at turnout to grass:

  • Gradual Turnout. On/off grazing for a few hours per day for 2-3 weeks before full turnout, weather and ground conditions permitting, is of huge benefit, as it allows the microbes in the rumen to adjust from an indoor silage based diet to an outdoor grass based diet. This process normally takes about 3 weeks.


  • Dry Matter Intakes (DMI). Grass is a very useful feed but varies quite a lot in quality and at times quantity. The dry matter of the grass can range from well below 10% in spring to over 20% in summer. A cow would need to eat 100kg of fresh grass at 15% DM if she is to take in 15kg of grass dry matter. At 10% DM, she would need to consume 150kg fresh grass to achieve an intake of 15kg grass dry matter. The variation in grass DM has a major influence of BCS, fertility, milk yield and quality.


  • SARA (Sub Acute Rumen Acidosis). This is very common in spring calving herds on lush leafy spring grass. Lush leafy spring grass tends to have low levels of structural fibre (e.g. lignin,) and high sugar levels which impacts on rumen function which in turn leads to SARA. SARA will compromise milk yield, milk protein and fat percentages, while a prolonged period of SARA will negatively impact on fertility and BCS.


  • Fat and Protein. Spring grass contains high levels of unsaturated fatty acids which can negatively affect milk fat percentage. Spring grass will also contain high crude protein levels, particularly after fertilizer application. Excessive dietary crude protein will result in high urea levels in milk and blood which will also negatively affect BCS and fertility.


  • Buffer Feeding. Feeding a high energy, high dry matter forage, such as maize silage, will help counteract the variances of a grass diet in spring/early lactation. This will help to balance DMI and regulate rumen function.


  • Concentrate Feeding. As grass and a buffer feed, on their own, will not meet the nutritional demands of early lactation, it is necessary to feed a concentrate at grass. The concentrate (pellet or coarse ration) must compliment the grass. A pellet/ration with about 14-16%  crude protein ( 15% maximum for derogation purposes) with a highly digestible fibre content (sugar beet, soya hulls) and a good source of energy ( barley, maize) will be achieve this.  The diet must be balanced with the correct levels of minerals and vitamins, such as magnesium (for grass tetany), etc.


  • Monitor the cows. Throughout the grazing season, and particularly in early lactation, the cows should be regularly checked as changes in BCS, dung consistency, cudding rates, general health status, etc. can indicate an imbalance in the diet.


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Give your calves the best possible start

Author: John Bass – Business Development Manager 

Getting your calves off to the best possible start will have a huge impact on its growth, health, and longevity within the herd. The ultimate goal of calf rearing is to set up a heifer to achieve target weights such as doubling her birth weight at the point of weaning, achieving 60% of her mature weight at breeding, and calving down at 24 months at 90% of her mature body weight. To help you achieve such targets, we have put together a number of essential calf rearing protocols to follow over the next few vital weeks.

Colostrum Management

A calf’s first feed is no doubt the most important feed of its life. Ensuring a calf receives an adequate intake of quality colostrum preferably from its own mother will provide crucial antibodies and immunity from illness and disease.

  • Follow the 3:2:1 rule (3 litres, 2 hours, 1st milking). Colostrum deteriorates significantly within 4-6 hours after calving. Feed enough clean colostrum quickly to ensure that the calves receive high-quality colostrum. Intervene with a bottle feed if it has not suckled.
  • Keep colostrum clean; wash and sterilise all collecting buckets, dump buckets, and dump lines as you would wash your milking machine.
  • If storing colostrum in the fridge, do so at 4 degrees and for no longer than two days, as the absorption of antibodies will deteriorate thereafter.
  • Colostrum should be frozen in small packs to ease defrosting. To avoid damage to antibodies, ensure to defrost slowly on a low heat below 50 degrees celsius.

Milk replacer vs whole milk

Following on from the colostrum, the calf then moves onto transition milk. From day 2-3, it is advantageous to feed milk replacer over whole milk to help minimise disease spread and anti-bacterial resistance. The following guidelines should be followed:

  • Calves require approximately 13% of their body weight in feed intake in week one of life. This should be split between 2-4 feeds per day. In week two, this requirement rises to 15% of body weight equating to about 6L per day for a 40kg calf.
  • Like with whole milk, milk replacers need to be mixed and fed at the correct temperature (37-39 degrees Celsius) and correct concentration to ensure adequate nutrient intake.
  • Mix 125 grams to 850ml of water which provides a daily gain of roughly 700 grams (6L milk/day). Increase to meet demand if necessary.
  • Calves at 2-3 weeks of age have the potential to achieve 750-950 grams of live weight gain per day, with a minimum of 500 grams.
  • Feed conversion efficiency is almost at 1:1, so the quality of milk fed must be high to ensure the daily intake is providing enough nutrition to meet demand.
  • Milk powders vary and those based on either skim or whey are more favourable than those based on vegetable proteins – Dairy proteins are more easily absorbed and available to the calf compared to plant-based proteins.
  • Aim for powders with a minimum of 23% protein and 17% fat and below 0.1% fibre.
  • Buckets and feeders should be rinsed daily and sterilised 2-3 times a week.


  • Introduce a high-quality calf starter ration or nut from days 2-3.
  • Make sure it is high in cereal grains and highly palatable with no dust.
  • Intakes will be small, so keep quantities low and fresh.
  • Early intake of cereal-based feed will rapidly increase early rumen development and the growth of papillae on the rumen wall. As a result, this will increase nutrient uptake capacity of the calf throughout its life.
  • Failing to feed grain at an early stage will have drawbacks later in life. Aim to have calves eating 1kg at weaning.


  • A fresh straw bed is important for calf welfare. It will also encourage straw intake which will aid digestive development.
  • Ensure that calves have adequate feeding and resting space and that pens are well-drained and free from any breezes or wind.
  • Regular cleaning and liming are a must to avoid pathogens and scours.
  • Ensure there is constant fresh clean drinking water provided for calves and that feeders and drinkers are at an accessible height.

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