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Neil MacLeod: 'I’ve never known an autumn where plans have had to change so much'

There comes a point during an autumn like this that for two reasons you stop taking much notice of how much rain has fallen. 

The first is because we tend to get about twice as much as is forecast and on the days we don’t, it still feels like double by the time it lands on already saturated ground.

 

This, coupled with shorter, cooler days and reducing soil temperatures, will shortly bring to an end our autumn sowing with only one significant problem, we have only sown 40% of our planned wheat area and as I write this article (October 22) it’s looking increasingly unlikely this will increase as our array of drills sit impatiently in the shed.

 

Achievable

 

I’ve never known an autumn where plans have had to change so much just to try and get some seed in the ground. On a Monday we try and set some achievable goals for the week and by Tuesday most of them have been thrown out the window as the forecast changes yet again.

 

Cropping has had to be altered to allow progress and as much as we try and leave establishing our lighter land until last, at times this year it has been the only land on which we have got anything done.

 

You wouldn’t believe a block of heavy land which was oilseed rape is still awaiting its following wheat crop having sat in stubble since the third week in August and another block of similar land which was destined for second wheat is in the same predicament.

 

Potatoes

 

To make matters worse, potato lifting is significantly behind, with harvested land being left in an unimaginable state.

 

Unsurprisingly, our crop establishment methods have had to change and, as with every change, output reduces and time is lost.

 

At least, however, we have the armoury to allow change which is a must in a year like this with our variable soil types.

 

Cultivations

 

The area of direct drilling and minimum tillage has obviously had to reduce and for the past two weeks we have been sowing with the old power harrow combination unit tight behind the ploughs.

 

Knowing my dislike for this last-throw-of-the-dice establishment method, I always chuckle when neighbouring farmers drive past significantly slower with that ‘I told you so’ expression firmly etched on their face as Southesk is forced to adopt a system which is most commonly used in this area, albeit on smaller farms.

 

Barley

 

Turning our attention away from sowing (or the lack of), we have been busy loading feed barley onto boats in Montrose which is only six miles from us.

 

Due to low specific weights in barley this year there is a concern some of the UK-based buyers may start to reject contracted barley.

 

We have taken the opportunity to move ours early, with Holland being the current destination, as we aim to get as much shifted away from UK markets pre-Brexit.

 

We have also moved all our malting barley which I am delighted to say has all achieved malting specification in a year where there has been significantly higher amounts rejected mainly due to skinning.

 

Variable

 

Established crops are looking variable with late-sown oilseed rape struggling to get going, not helped by a couple of ground frosts in the last week.

 

A post-emergence application of herbicide and graminicide has not helped the cause either but it had to go on I’m afraid. Heavy rainfall on drilled fields have left some headlands looking patchy and any areas which had surface water rotted the seed completely.

 

As much as I would like to increase our winter wheat area, I would rather make a good job of a spring crop rather than keep plugging it in into November. I will draw a line under this shortly and allow winter to commence.

 


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