Well, it’s safe to say we are not quite in the position we would’ve hoped to be at this point in the year, however the kit is looking sparkling.
With precious few breaks in the weather leading to even fewer opportunities to drill, the majority of our winter seed is still sat in bags in the barn. The questions now focus on the latest safe sowing date for different crops.
This could largely be a rhetorical question as opportunities to drill on clay soils that were fully saturated in the autumn rarely present themselves for us between December and March.
The more pertinent question becomes, so what now? We have managed to drill a small area of winter wheat and winter beans so far and although everyone keeps talking in percentage terms, I have largely tried to avoid this question as I am unsure of which figure to use to divide the area by.
The cropping plan has been changing constantly ever since a proportion of the oilseed rape failed, and I think I am now up to version 23. I am trying to avoid making further changes, instead opting for two scenarios – an optimistic and a pessimistic one and the chances are we will be somewhere between the two.
The first wheat drilled in the middle of October on some light land is now up and looking good, and it is taking all my effort not to reflect on it with a futile desire that more had been drilled at this point.
My two key objectives at the time were not to drill if it was likely to cause too much lasting soil damage and if we could not get back to apply a pre-em. Spraying off fields in spring due to high levels of black-grass would become even harder this year.
I took cover for some spring seed earlier in the autumn, but I did not want to cover everything for two reasons. I was still hopeful of gaining opportunities to drill in October and November, and I was not enthralled by talk of spring wheat seed at over four times the value of the output.
Considering the likely seed rates required, this would put it at close to £150/hectare before we’ve even started. Bearing in mind our challenges with spring drilling and the shear amount we already have to do, it is unlikely that we would hit the optimum drilling date for spring wheat, or even get close to it, and therefore it is difficult to make the returns look particularly exciting.
With this in mind, although I am looking at minimising the financial burden of this year as best I can, my main focus has switched to trying to reduce the lasting impact of the wet autumn on following seasons.
We are therefore likely to end up with a considerable proportion of cover crops to help draw moisture out of the soil, compete against weed species, improve the soil structure through rooting, cycle nutrients over spring and protect the soil from further weather related damage (although I get the feeling we may be a little late for this one).
There are some decent volunteer crops that have come through in places, that could in theory be the basis of a cover crop mix, particularly the bean volunteers, however my concern with this would be a build-up of pests and disease that would have a lasting negative effect.
I will probably send off some samples to test for foot rot and stem nematode to see what the implications would be, as high cover crop seed cost without a harvest is not that easy to swallow.