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Talking arable with Ian Matts: Rainfall has improved soil conditions greatly

We have at long last had a significant rainfall event, with just over 24mm recorded on October 14. This has improved soil conditions greatly and seems to have been a turning point from summer conditions, to autumnal ones, with a drop in temperatures and heavy morning dews.

 

Our aim this autumn following the dry conditions was to wait for sufficient moisture to encourage black-grass to chit, rather than to wait for a specific calendar date to begin cereal drilling in earnest. We were clearly not alone in this judging by the number of bare soils and lack of any cereals emerging. Black-grass has still been slower to come than I had expected, despite the arrival of moisture, but there is only so long you can continue to hold your nerve for.

 

At the time of writing (October 19) we were 40% through the planned cereal drilling. Unfortunately, the area of autumn drilling has had to increase as the oilseed rape that had been sat in dust last time I wrote did not receive enough moisture in time to justify keeping. There seems very little logic to the areas which have survived better than others, although the only thing I could really put it down to was the impact of the hot, drying winds. Field corners and sheltered areas, which normally may not fare as well as the rest of the field appear to be the opposite this year. They did not have had the full force of the winds at the end of summer which must have sucked any last drop of moisture out of the ground. This has therefore led to a rethink in cropping, with winter oats going in later this month instead.

 

The earliest drilled wheat is just starting to come through and show up in rows, whilst barley has been racing up within a week in places now, as soil temperatures remain higher than average for the time of year. The worst black-grass fields are destined to be drilled last to an autumn sown spring wheat. If we were caught out by the weather, this could be drilled in the spring, but with the forecast now returning to a period of dry, settled weather the plan will be to continue right through to finish off the wheat and the beans.


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Black-grass

 

So far there is little evidence of any black-grass showing up in drilled blocks and hopefully it will remain this way as the pre-ems now have optimal conditions to ensure their efficacy remains high. We have recently had the opportunity to evaluate different nozzle options for the pre-ems using water sensitive paper.

 

It is a really good way for the whole team to truly understand the impact different nozzles can have on coverage, as there is nothing quite like seeing things first hand. Given ideal conditions, the small strip of yellow paper virtually turns completely blue, showing near perfect coverage. Where water volumes or pressures drop, the coverage is unsurprisingly dramatically reduced, so hopefully the message is well and truly fixed this season.

 

We had an RPA stewardship inspection earlier in the summer where all our options were meticulously measured to ensure there were no discrepancies with our claim. Unfortunately, in a few places the margins appear to have ‘crept’ a little, meaning they were no longer the required minimum width.

 

Thankfully, being in the first year of the agreement meant we still had time to rectify them, which we have done, however, on receiving the official report from the inspection it appears that they have made a few errors on some of the rotational option sizes with some decimal points seemingly in the wrong place, reducing my areas by over 2ha, so I will need to work through this and report back to Natural England.

 

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