Farm facts

  • Farmer: Pádraig Connery.
  • Location: Clashmore and Villierstown, Co Waterford.
  • Farm size: 165ha.
  • Enterprise: tillage and beef.
  • Schemes: Protein Aid and ACRES (grassland).
  • No one needs to be told it has been an extremely difficult year on tillage farms. For months, farmers looked out at sodden fields that couldn’t be planted and then raced to plant crops in brief windows of dry weather.

    But when the sun shines through and the green crops jump up to the blue sky, tillage farms are a great place to be. Friday, 10 May was the hottest day of the year to that point and the Irish Farmers Journal travelled to Pádraig Connery’s farm in Co Waterford.

    Pádraig had just finished planting the last of his spring barley in a wet patch of ground the night before; the rest was in 10-14 days at that stage.

    He farms in west Waterford – it’s lovely ground and we saw great crops, but the season didn’t get off to an easy start.

    Storm Babet caused some damage in some of the winter barley.

    Winter oats were not planted and three days after the winter barley went in last October, Storm Babet washed away a local road and with it some of Pádraig’s barley and an internal farm road.

    He might chop the straw in this field, but he certainly won’t be turning on the knives in the rest of his winter barley crops. Tardis, a two row, and six rows Joyau and Integral are a picture, both claim barley yellow dwarf virus tolerance and the low number of yellow leaves was evident.

    Spring beans

    A crop of Integral winter barley after beans was the most impressive. In a year where there are many poor winter barley crops, it was great to see this thick and tall crop being grown for seed.

    TThe bean crops on the farm allow cereal seed crops to be planted. Pádraig returned to growing the crop about five years ago and while he says he never really goes beyond 2t/ac on yield, the crop has many other advantages. Among them are allowing seed to be grown, increasing yield in the following cereal crops and reducing his spend on nitrogen fertiliser. The Protein Aid payment offers insurance as well.

    Premium crops

    On a tillage farm, premium crops are essential to increase margins. If you’re growing a feed crop you’re spending more or less the same amount of money as what you will spend on the premium crop but the income is lower.

    Pádraig grows seed barley, oats for Flahavan’s and has three different premium contracts for his spring barley. Crops for malting barley are trading about €70/t above feed at present. Feed barley for distilling, which carries a €15/t premium, doesn’t have the same protein constraints as barley for malting.

    Barley had two leaves on 10 May and some weeds were up. Pádraig was hoping enough weeds would be up by the three to four leaf stage to hit weeds and aphids at the same time.

    Spring beans emerging on 10 May.

    The crops had received their full complement of nitrogen into the seedbed ahead of sowing, with pig slurry applied along with compound and nitrogen.

    There is a piggery just three miles down the road.

    Pádraig is currently looking at upgrading an over-ground tank on the farm to provide storage for pig slurry. This would allow for easier application with an umbilical system ahead of cultivations. In future he might apply to growing crops.

    Biodiversity and the environment

    Pádraig is focused on good crop management and making good margins, but as we walk around the farm it is very clear that the environment is also a priority.

    Beside the crop of late-sown spring barley is red clover, which was planted last June to help to reduce artificial nitrogen requirement and it suffered in the drought after establishment.

    Pádraig only got one cut off the crop last year, but hopes to cut it in the coming weeks and get a herbicide out onto it to control weeds. He feeds the silage to his finishing cattle.

    A local bee keeper has hives on the farm.

    The first thing we see in a barley field are beehives. There are also four owl boxes dotted around the farm in both sheds and trees which are yet to be inhabited as far as Pádraig can see.

    As well as the mandatory margins beside watercourses, he is planting wildflower margins on some field boundaries. Parts of the farm have tall trees which have seen a lot in their hundreds of years.

    The barley under these habitats often doesn’t ripen with the rest of the crops due to the shade and Pádraig has decided to plant an eight-way cover crop mix in these stretches this year.

    He has done this previously and thinks it’s a good way of bringing more biodiversity onto the farm.

    There is a wet patch on the farm which is left fallow every year. Pádraig is thinking of digging a pond on this patch. He is really enjoying giving back habitats on his farm and watching these habitats develop. He hopes the pond is somewhere that he can visit with his young family.

    Investing in the farm’s future

    “We’re trying to do something progressive each year whether it be machinery or investing in the soil, whatever we can,” Pádraig explained.

    The red clover was sowed last June.

    “Cover crops, we’ve probably fully embraced them now for three years. I’m definitely seeing a difference.

    “There’s a definite yield kick and a workability improvement. Where you’re ploughing post-cover crop you’re definitely getting a fluffier, more presented seedbed.”

    Pádraig noted that while they still disc the headlands in fields after cover crops, this year they probably could have got away without it. Reducing the number of passes on fields is good for soil, and also saves time and diesel.

    “They cost about €40/ac to put in. You wouldn’t be long clawing that back with a slight yield kick and savings in terms of trafficability,” Pádraig added.

    This season he also invested in a new sprayer, going from 15m to 21m and a 50% increase in volume in the water tank, covering 30ac.

    Pádraig has invested in machinery in recent years for a number of reasons.

    “The windows are getting smaller to get the work done. We have three small kids now and I feel now is the time to invest in the machinery to speed up the work as opposed to in 15 years’ time when maybe they’re at the next stage of life.

    “It’s nice to get the work done in the short window and in as short a time as possible and be able to enjoy the kids instead of being stuck out on the sprayer every summer evening until 10pm,” he said.

    Social sustainability and work-life balance

    Pádraig and Claire have three young children and getting a work life balance is very important.

    Pádraig has help on the farm full-time from Brian who works year round and this spring a local dairy farmer came over, after milking, with his own tractor and hooked up to the roller until evening milking.

    His brothers help out as well, so Pádraig counts himself lucky to have great support.There seems to be a good community around Clashmore and Villierstown where people help each other out with jobs on the farm.

    “We do need to be mindful of the pressures people are under,” Pádraig commented. He said there are people out there under a lot of pressure and they’re reluctant to talk about it.


    He thinks more should be done to help farmers share workloads or to develop a system where they can share services.

    For example, if someone is finished planting, someone else might come and give a hand out and that farmer could help someone else out at a time of year when they aren’t under pressure.

    Farm Walk

    Pádraig takes part in the Irish Farmers Journal Footprint Farmers and the From the Tramlines programmes. He will host a farm walk on 20 June.

    More details will follow in the paper and online over the coming weeks.

    You can listen to Padraig on The Tillage podcast by scanning this QR code.