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Damian McAuley

January Edition of Agronomist & Arable Farmer – Damian McAuley

3 minutes January 25, 2021

Damian McAuley

Agronomist Damian McAuley

January 2021


It’s an embarrassing thing to admit as a parent, but being one is really difficult. It might feel like a shameful admission, but it’s really not. It’s actually an important acknowledgement of the significance of the role. Perhaps one that more people would do well to realise?

To start with, the early months are the worst. The sleepless nights (and days), and a continuous conveyer of feed and excrement convince you that life with a little one can only get easier. But it doesn’t.

The locomotive stages open up new dimensions of danger and chaos. And once crawling, toddling, walking and running faster than an Olympic sprinter is mastered, the terrible twos kick in. Swiftly followed by the “threenager” years and then the “effing-fours”! And just as your mind and body can take no more, they’re off to school and then the real intellectual challenge begins.

I thought I had a reasonable level of communication skill and patience. But have you tried teaching a six-year old how to tell the time?


The concept is deeper and more complicated than you might think. So there are 60 seconds in a minute. No, I don’t know why there are 60. There are 60 minutes in an hour. No, I don’t know why there are 60 of those either. 24 hours in a day. Erm, it’s divisible by 6…

Before I knew it, I was deep in an explanation of days, weeks, months, seasons, the nature of planetary orbits around a star, the workings of gravitational forces and eventually the intricate wobbles of planets spinning on their rotational axes. That’s when I noticed the glazed expression and the wobbling bottom lip. My son looked confused too.

Even with an intimate understanding of the natural cycles of the year, it can be a tricky thing to determine. My clients and I spend nearly every working day with the seasons physically informing us which quarter we are in. But for the last few weeks of the year, our conversations have been dominated by the question of what season are we in and therefore what crop should we be planting in land still to be drilled? It depends on who you ask.


Astronomical seasons refer to the position of Earth’s orbit in relation to the Sun, considering equinoxes and solstices. Since the seasons vary in length, the start date of a new season can fall on different days each year. Meteorological seasons consist of splitting the year into four periods made up of three months each. These seasons are split to coincide with our Gregorian calendar, so winter is always December, January and February and spring March, April and May.

Closer to home, the Chemicals Regulation Directive (CRD) have a different definition altogether. Irrespective of variety, anything sown before the end of January is a winter crop. Anything sown after, is a spring crop. To make matters even more confusing, the Rural Payments Agency and plant breeders have determined a crop is defined by the variety, so a spring wheat sown in the autumn is still a spring crop. And vice versa.

An increase in the area of field beans and a couple of challenging autumns has led to similar questions being asked about the right and wrong times for growing winter and spring beans as both can technically be sown at both times.


So when do we switch from winter wheat varieties to spring alternatives? Like the definitions of the seasons themselves, the answer is a complicated one. But unlike the seasons, there is no formula or protocol that can predict the right answer. There will be a point in the year when yield moves in favour of one from the other, and this will be determined by the varieties of both winter and spring wheats, the seedbed conditions at and after drilling and ultimately by the weather between drilling and harvest.

In the absence of all this data, my guess is as good as my son’s when I ask him to tell me the time as I show him a circle with a bunch of numbers on the outside and a couple of moving sticks. Best I buy him a digital watch.


Damian McAuley




First published in January 2021 edition of Agronomist and Arable Farmer magazine. To read the original article or to find out more, please visit

Avatar for  Damian McAuley

Damian McAuley

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