Russell is farm manager for John Sheard Farms and a partner in the family farm of D.J. Tebbit, responsible for a total of 995 hectares (2,457 acres), with land crossing into Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Cropping is split between winter wheat grown for seed, milling and feed, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, spring barley, spring beans and spring oats. Russell is an AHDB monitor farmer and a 2014 Nuffield Scholar.
Is there such thing as a ‘normal’ season any more? I would not have predicted we would only register 1.8mm of rain since I wrote my previous article and although crops have been holding on reasonably well, spring crops desperately need some rain to kick their season in to gear. Surely we are on the verge of a hosepipe ban?
The last time this was mentioned in 2012 we all know what happened next, but even washing the car has not worked this time and the cricket season has even got off to a dry start, despite it normally being the cue for unforecast showers. But a dry season makes decision- making much more difficult than a wet year, specifically when it comes to making fungicide choices for the key leaf 3 T1 timing in wheat.
It creates a lot of indecision and, as I do not possess a crystal ball, we are guessing what could happen in the next four weeks.
But the consequences for getting it wrong can mean chasing diseases which are difficult to eradicate. You only know at harvest what you should have done 10 weeks earlier.
There was a recent study which suggested farms could maintain production while slashing pesticide use. It sounds a wonderful idea and most farms would be more than happy to reduce their input bill. However, this would work if there were diagnostic tools available to forecast risk.
As far as I am aware, there are no tools which will tell me when my black-grass will start and stop germinating, the date aphids will enter a crop, and what the weather will be like between March and July to help with disease forecasting.
So the reality is we can all be geniuses and say what we should have done, but there is a balance
between risk and reward and there is the chance to save money on a fungicide programme in a dry year. But the difference between a solid programme and one which exposes you to risk if the elements change may only require an extra 0.13 tonnes per hectare response for a bit of peace of mind.
I reckon this is pretty cheap insurance, unless anyone has a crystal ball available?