As well as a new year, it’s very much a new world we are entering into this time round; hopefully – with vaccines, the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) and most definitely, post-EU.
While we are unlikely to see much in the way of immediate change on either front, the direction of travel is clear with both. As far as Brexit is concerned, this means some very fundamental change everyone needs to work towards sooner rather than later.
With only 80% of our planned winter crop area drilled and much of it not looking pretty in another very wet season, we are exploring a number of mid-tier options more widely this winter for awkward as well as less productive and more problematic ground.
Despite its challenges, last season gave us some useful opportunities to do this on land we simply couldn’t risk cropping. For instance, under stewardship we were able to get some two-year sown options such as AB15 (legume fallow) established really well ahead of the autumn deadline. This should give us some help with black-grass control and a nice entry for wheat in 2022, together with a useful £500/hectare in the meanwhile.
We have the assurance that existing stewardship agreements should be transferrable into ELMs from 2024, so there’s no risk here. And the gains can be considerable if we employ the right options for the right situations.
We really want to learn how best to do this before it becomes essential, allowing us to go into ELMs with enough experience to make it work as well we can, both economically and environmentally. Especially so as far as carbon capture is concerned, which is likely to be a key component of payment.
Agrii’s Green Horizons five-point plan, which has arisen from decades of research, will give whole farm solutions for our new era of ‘public goods’.
Much of our heavy land wheat went into some decidedly average seedbeds, couldn’t be rolled and needed a revised pre/peri-em strategy. Once again, correct soil preparation has been the key to successful drilling. ‘We’ve always done it this way’ will not keep our farms profitable.
Gearing what we put into our winter crops carefully to their potential before we embark upon their main fertiliser and spray spend has always been important for us in securing the best margins that conditions will allow. Again, this season it will be crucial.
The state of the crop does mean some careful crop-by-crop assessment going into the spring to plan the most cost-effective nutrition and crop protection. N-Mins may be on the low side so we will measure them. Along with plant counts and a good understanding of what is going on below the ground as much as above it.
As I write, in early December, our OSR is not far off getting its propyzamide as soil temperatures fall. Once they get low enough to give us the herbicide persistency we need, we will be combining this with prothioconazole to keep on top of light leaf spot in particular, and both magnesium and boron.
Although most crops are well-grown, we are checking them carefully for cabbage stem flea beetle larvae before spraying just in case. After all, once the propyzamide is on we have no spring cereal drilling fallback.
Decent autumn moisture levels means most of the cover crops we have in ahead of spring cereals are well-grown and doing their job nicely too. However, we won’t be leaving them in there much beyond January. By this stage they are merely holding in water rather than pumping it out and we don’t want their trash interfering with drilling or using up valuable nitrogen in the seedbed either.
Last year my research colleagues at Stow Longa lost 0.5 tonnes/ha of spring barley from delaying glyphosate application from six weeks to a few days before drilling. If ever we needed proof of the importance of timely cover crop destruction this is it.