Déjà vu is a term that I seem to be throwing around a lot at the moment as sadly drilling opportunities in October have so far been sparse.
Both the weather and the forecasting of it are cause for much frustration at the moment. We have had some form of rainfall nearly every day this month, although the majority of the time it seems as though it has not appeared in the forecast until it actually starts to rain.
At one point the long-term forecast on one app went from two weeks of dry to two weeks of rain in the space of an hour. If we had reliable long-range weather forecasts it would make this job a whole lot easier, but even just forecasting the next couple of days appears to be beyond the current limits. I have heard suggestions this is due to the reduction in aircraft currently in the skies as a result of Covid-19, which sounds plausible, but an improvement on what we have at the moment would be very useful.
Thankfully we are not in quite the same state as we were this time last year, as soils are not currently as wet and we made a slightly earlier start to drilling, therefore we have more crops in the ground this time around. As of the end of September we were approximately 30% drilled up with what we intend to drill this autumn. This was predominately winter barley, but also some wheat on lighter soils that have a lower black-grass pressure. At the time I was concerned that we had maybe done too much, but the lack of opportunities to drill so far in October has perhaps vindicated the decision.
The one positive result of the disastrous winter bean harvest this summer was the potential to utilise a ‘free’ cover crop. Having harvested the fields in early August, we went over them with a carrier to level the soil and help chit the beans left too low on the stems for the combine to pick up. This worked well, and the volunteers have grown significantly in the couple of months since, to the point where they have nodulated and begun to fix nitrogen. Although it would have been better to have the seed in the tank, this has helped the ground conditions, and will hopefully give the establishing crop a bit of a boost when the nitrogen is released.
Some of the earlier drilled cereals have had quite a heavy stack of pre-ems in order to deal with the potential black-grass risk and in one case deal with the high numbers of volunteer oats coming where we had high losses following the storms in August. So far, black-grass levels appear to be very low both on the drilled, but also the undrilled fields.
I’m not sure if this means we have not yet seen the peak emergence for this autumn, or whether it is in part due to an improvement in control over the last few years. I would certainly like to believe it is the latter, but time might still prove otherwise. As for barley yellow dwarf virus, so far aphid numbers also appear low to non-existent, but with the high pressure seen by some in volunteers, again time will tell on this front.
Having dropped oilseed rape this autumn, it has highlighted the benefit this crop brought in terms of spreading the workload in the autumn as well as at harvest. Pushing a much greater area into winter cereals or spring cropping does not make life easy when facing a wet and difficult autumn.
The fields of legume fallow drilled this autumn are coming through well, albeit with a few volunteer beans, but I guess these will just add to the legume element of this mix. With little experience of this option so far, it will be interesting to monitor how it develops and get a feel for the requirements before a much greater area is drilled next autumn