Talking Arable with Jim Bullock: Relentless rainfall

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At the time of writing (early July) we have been totting up our June rainfall figures and locally we had more than 220mm in June this year, compared to 40mm in June last year, but in 2015 we had temperatures of 30degC. Not so this year.


The bonus of the abundance of moisture is all of our spring crops are looking good. Looking at the growing costs, one wonders why we grow winter crops, but without the rain it would be a different story.


We seem to have controlled the gout fly larvae on the spring wheat as the ears appear to be undamaged. The crop has remained surprisingly clean. If the weather remains cool we may just get away with the two insecticides and a broadleaved weed herbicide; added to 125kg of nitrogen it will keep our growing costs down to £120/hectare.


Our Canyon spring oats have cost about the same to grow, again just 125kg N/ha and a broadleaved weed herbicide. We did not hurry to drill either crop, and waited for soil temperatures to get above 10degC, so both went into the ground and grew away. There is evidence of barley yelloe dwarf virus in the oat crop but I am struggling to find any disease.


We threw the book at the spring beans (pre-em) herbicide-wise, so have not had to go back and attempt to control black-grass or charlock, which not only has reduced costs, but has saved on crop damage. We have applied a fungicide SAN 703 (cyproconazole + chlorothalonil) at early flowering to control rust and chocolate spot which was present on the lower leaves. This will be followed up with another application of the same fungicide, along with an insecticide for bruchid beetle control. I am never sure how successful we are in controlling bruchid beetle as we always seem to get some damaged seed no matter how many times we spray.


Our linseed sown after spring beans looks a picture and is very nearly weed-free after just a broadleaved weed herbicide. The crop after winter wheat did not like having 17mm of rain in half-an-hour, dumped on it a day or so after drilling some areas flooded and in those areas the crop is looking a bit thin.


The summer field events are now nearly over and of course Cereals was the top of the pile; being there as a farmer and an exhibitor was interesting. The message we got as farmers was ‘get bigger or get out’ and you must spend more on inputs, yield is king. But talking to farmers as an exhibitor, it is clear they are looking to cut costs and in some cases the area they are farming to reduce overheads. There is a realisation that by spreading yourself thinly over a large area makes you even more vulnerable than those who can make money on a more manageable acreage.


This brings me neatly on to the Groundswell event held on the Cherrys’ farm in Hertfordshire a fortnight after Cereals. It could be described as the Glastonbury of the farming calendar but it attracted 500 farmers who were prepared to pay £40 to listen to the latest thoughts on conservation agriculture with speakers from the US, France, Germany and UK.


The combination of working demonstrations and a more formal conference was a real hit with all who attended. The key messages I brought home from the event were that we need more diversity in our cropping; we need to increase our soil organic matter levels and ease back on the chemicals – you do not take ‘medicine unless you are sick’ so why spray a healthy crop?


Arable Farming
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