Talking Arable - Jim Bullock: Slow start to spring

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I have been tempted in the past to try direct-drilling crops when soil conditions are not ideal. If you are lucky and it stays dry after drilling it can be successful, but if it comes wet we have had failures due to seed rotting in waterlogged slots.


In many cases the surface looks dry and will travel, but a few centimetres down the soil can still be like mud.


There is always the temptation to move a bit of soil to dry out the surface, but I am loathe to do anything which will create another grass-weed germination.


We have had three hits (two last autumn and one this spring) at the black-grass on our worst fields.


This land is going into linseed, now in a double spring break after spring beans in 2015, which will not be drilled until the middle of April, so there will be another opportunity for a glyphosate application.


We can use Centurion Max (clethodim) in the crop, so with luck we ought to have a clean start to next year’s wheat crop – farming really is a long-term business.


The other alternative to linseed is a fertility-building cover crop which will be an option if drilling gets very delayed and it looks like the crop will not cover costs or, shock horror, show a loss.


As drilling gets later I am undecided as to whether or not to combine the oats, wheat and linseed with some nitrogen. There are two schools of thought: some nitrogen close to the seedling gives it a boost and helps establishment.


The other is that crops with insufficient nutrients close to the rooting area encourage the seedling to produce a more extensive root mass to scavenge for nutrients and moisture.


From previous experience we have found applying a starter fertiliser (10-15 kg N/hectare) followed up by half of the main dressing when the tramlines are visible has worked well with spring wheat; as ever a compromise.


Winter wheat


Our winter wheat has made a surprisingly good recovery this spring, having been stressed out since drilling late last October.


The continuous wet weather turned it strange shades of grey and purple but 40kg N has perked it up and all which needs to be done now is to apply Atlantis and Pacifica (both iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) to the crops where we have a black-grass or brome problem.


It is very noticeable that where we managed to control the black-grass in the previous bean crop, combined with late drilling, we now have black-grass at rogueable levels. But where we were not successful we have had to spray-off 3ha, which will be re-drilled with spring wheat.


Fortunately disease levels are low, along with temperatures, because it looks like our T0s will most certainly be T1s as we are just not getting any spraying days.


As much as we can tinker with cultivations and inputs, the difference between profit and loss is usually determined by selling price.


We always sell a bit forward to cover cashflow, but having been contacted by several grain buyers looking for wheat for August/September; being a sceptic, I just wonder if the market might be a bit stronger in a few weeks’ time.


Our best price in 2015 was achieved using the Frontier harvest pool; had I put all of wheat into the pool we would be £12,000 better off now.

Arable Farming
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