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Talking arable with Ian Matts: Black-grass flush shows delaying drilling was the right decision

Arable farmer, Ian Matts says black-grass levels on the farm are pleasingly low, despite a recent flush.

First fungicide applications to cereals have begun this week, following a drop in the wind which restricted spraying the previous week. Despite growing varieties with greater resistance – and reducing the reliance on early season disease control over the last few seasons – this year does not look like being one to continue this trend.

 

With some crops looking quite forward and lush following the mild winter, especially any fields that received sewage sludge or FYM in the autumn, an early PGR will be important this year. On top of this, all cereals contain various levels of mildew, which will be worth getting on top of early.

 

Nitrogen

 

First nitrogen applications have now been completed on all winter crops, with the majority of the wheat and winter oats not looking particularly hungry, as good levels of mineralisation over winter have been able to match early demand.


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Drilling

Having resisted the urge to go too early following the good ground conditions, spring barley drilling is about to start shortly. The majority of the spring barley is following a cover crop drilled last autumn and sprayed off either just before or just after the turn of the year.

 

However there are a few fields that did not receive a cover crop that had been ploughed. These fields have taken a long time to green up, but there has been a significant flush of black-grass in the last 10 days, which shows why we did not want to rush in too soon.

 

There is now a reasonable amount of moisture close to the surface and, with soils warming up, this should prove beneficial for the spring barley.

 

CSFB

 

The first of our long-term spring barley blocks was returned into winter cropping as a late autumn drilled spring wheat. This has helped to reunite a block of fields, which should improve some of the efficiencies lost through splitting blocks for black-grass.

 

It is currently looking very good and black-grass levels are pleasingly low so, hopefully, this will give enough confidence to continue bringing other blocks out over the coming few years and utilising the benefit of a double spring break in the rotation for the worst fields.

 

Some of the remaining OSR seems to be really struggling with flea beetle larvae, particularly the earliest drilled that earlier in the season had looked to escape the worst of the threat.

 

I recently attended a meeting where Dr Sacha White from ADAS was talking on the subject and he was able to sum up optimum drilling timings by whether you preferred adults in the autumn or larvae in the spring. Drill late and you are likely to face the former, but drill early to avoid this and you are likely to have to deal with the latter.

Benchmarking

 

I have recently been to two benchmarking meetings, one with the Joint Venture Farming Group and one with AHDB.

 

We have been involved with benchmarking for a long time, but I have not personally had much input until lately. I am very keen on utilising the information from this, but the one thing that struck me from both meetings was how difficult it can be to compare like with like.

 

Different business will fill out the information in different ways which often make sense either way, but can make comparisons difficult. The key must be to be as open as possible with all those involved, but it can be quite tricky when just dipping in and out of it.

 

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