Talking Arable with Jim Bullock: Storing data


We have our annual farm assurance (Red Tractor) inspection during the first week in December. This coincides with my first New Year’s resolution: to keep all of our spray and fertiliser records up-to-date.


Unfortunately, this year I managed to lose some data through failing to update our crop recording programme. It just makes you realise how much data we need to store and how tedious it is when the system fails. One questions whether before the advent of computers, we stored less data and now that it is possible to keep more information we have to, just because we can.


When the system works our Red Tractor inspection only takes just over an hour as the inspector has a record of most background data. It makes me wonder if you have a record of being compliant, whether it would not be possible to go for biannual inspections for simple all-arable farms.


Like most growers, at the time of writing in early December, I am eagerly awaiting my Basic Farm Payment. Come the brave new world of Brexit and the possibility of zero farm payments, at least it will eliminate the worry of having to get one’s application in by May 14.


If the opinions of those who contribute to some farming forums and social media sites can be trusted, it would appear quite a number of farmers seem to think we are going to be better off without any support. I just hope they are right and we are going to be able to obtain better returns in the new world without having equal access to the European markets.


If every autumn was like 2016 life would be so much easier. I do not think I can remember a year when we had such a large window to get crops established. I appreciate it was not the same for everybody, with it being too wet in the North and too dry in the South East.


Even after 60mm of rain which fell in less than 24 hours at the end of November, we could easily travel to spray or even drill within a few days. I put this down to the fact most of our land has been direct drilled for a number of years and we are now benefiting from a more natural vertical soil structure which, combined with more earth worms, absorbs more water. Most of our overwintered stubbles are sown to cover crops, which again helps reduce run-off and protect the soil.


We will have more than 60% of the farm in spring-sown crops again for harvest 2017 and, as I have said before, cover crops can be a mixed blessing come drilling time in March and April. There is the physical problem of drying the soil surface and fertility problems, with nutrients being locked in the decaying cover crop. Most of what we have planted is based on oil radish which has probably been killed off by recent frosts (-6degC) but I think we need to consider spraying off the remainder as soon as possible in the New Year.


Killing off mature broadleaved radish plants can be a bit of a challenge for glyphosate, so we have tried rolling about 10 days after spraying and so far this has been successful. There is a lot of surface material, but it has become quite brittle already (six weeks after rolling), so by early spring I hope it will be possible to direct drill spring wheat into the remaining residue.


Experience has taught us spring crops benefit from fertiliser placement at drilling. Just thinking about the logistics of plant growth it is obvious; surface applied products will take several weeks to get to the seedlings’ roots, which can be a large percentage of a spring crop’s growth period. In the past we have mixed seed and solid fertiliser together but with a larger acreage to cover I think we may need to look at possibly going down the liquid route.


Season’s greetings to one and all.

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