A very well attended Teagasc Tillage Conference held in Kilkenny this week heard that the sector is coming under pressure from a range of challenges.
While grain prices remain at the top of the agenda in terms of income prospects, there are other challenges for the Irish tillage sector. Resistance to herbicides, insecticides and fungicides is now prevalent across a range of plants, insects and funguses. At the same time the protectants available to grain growers are diminishing. The latest loss is Chlorothalonil, which will be unavailable from May 2020 under EU regulations. This fungicide is particularly important in the damp Irish growing conditions to protect crops from Ramularia leaf spot and Septoria tritici blotch. Meanwhile, aphid control is becoming increasingly problematic, both because of the withdrawal of half of the previously available insecticides as well as the emergence of aphid clones which are immune to the pyrethroid-based protectants. Wild Oat is an arable grass weed endemic in Irish cereal fields. Herbicide resistance in wild oats, previously not diagnosed, is increasingly common at the same time as growers are facing a reduced choice of herbicide control products.
A Danish tillage expert, Nanna Hellum Kristensen, told attendees at the Tillage Conference about cover crop management techniques in her country and also addressed the challenges facing growers because of the increasingly restrictive use of glyphosate-based herbicides. This highlights a contradiction in EU regulations which, on the one hand advocates green covers over the winter while restricting the availability of products to facilitate the removal of the cover crops before grain crops can be planted. Min and no-till techniques are being advocated above inversion (ploughing) because less carbon is released. Glyphosate is essential to these crop establishment systems.
Meanwhile, Irish tillage growers are getting kudos for being among the lowest contributors to GHG emissions in the agricultural sector. By any comparison, tillage has a relatively good carbon footprint.