So far an average harvest. For which we must count ourselves fortunate.
Things have been very varied, of course. Despite poorer competitiveness in the wet winter, our winter barley has not been the disaster it could easily have been at 7.5 tonnes per hectare. Nor has our oilseed rape, averaging around 3t/ha.
We certainly are not counting our chickens though. It is mid-August and we have yet to see how our late planted winter wheat comes in. Most of the spring barley is still a good way off combining, however the Explorer cut so far is hitting at least 7t/ha and the required specification for Budweiser. Neither will be appreciating the torrential downpours we have been getting.
The moisture is, however, just what we need for the phacelia, buckwheat, berseem clover and mustard cover crops in the ground as part of our concerted effort to deal with soil structural issues. It is perfect too for our OSR establishment, giving it a chance of success.
The covers that went into fallow ground earlier in summer are looking fabulous. We know roots alone will not do the job. Having got some metal in ahead of sowing though, they should keep the soils in the best possible condition for autumn drilling.
We are still holding our nerve with OSR and all of it that can go in is already in the ground. By which I mean anything after winter barley plus some following unplanned fallow. The fly in the ointment here, if that is not the wrong expression these days, is too much spring barley and too little time.
Providing we have sufficient moisture, we intend to stick with our planned OSR area. If spring barley does not come off early enough, or things turn too dry and the flea beetle pressure really ramps-up, we will have to change our plans.
Based on our experience and the latest Agrii research, the OSR is going in with as little soil disturbance as possible; a buckwheat companion crop; and well-balanced seedbed fertiliser as standard. Far less effective weed competition than we normally see from the winter barley also means we will be putting even more priority than usual on grass-weed control.
The past season is one to forget, however it has reinforced a number of lessons we ignore at our peril going forward.
First and foremost, soil is everything. It is nowhere near as resilient as we would like it to be. So, we have to be especially careful in the way we manage it. And we need to think well ahead.
We will be spring cropping any ground that needs time to recover. At the same time, we will be making sure we set it up correctly for the following crop as much as the immediate one. Low disturbance drilling may be essential for our OSR these days for instance, but we always find it does better where we have established the previous crop with deep cultivation.
Patience is essential in our autumn drilling too. I may resort to hiding tractor keys or sitting in gateways to prevent our red-coded fields being drilled too early. Unless it is with winter barley or rye on our grain contract.
Even last year this was far more competitive than wheat going in before mid-October.
The past season has also underlined the value of being as flexible as we can with our crop choice as much as sowing time, adapting plans rapidly to changing conditions – with one eye on the rotation, of course.
Technical seed dressings such as Vibrance Duo, Take-Off and iMan show their worth in getting crops off to the best possible start – especially in challenging conditions. With early nutrition, in particular, we see feeding the plant rather than the soil being more and more important; we will utilise the Lancrop curves for this, alongside caring as well as we can for our primary resource.