The latest safe sowing dates for the various winter crops I had optimistically hoped we would get an opportunity to drill are fast approaching and will soon be a distant memory, probably without a wheel ever turning.
Very little, make that virtually no activity has taken place since I last wrote at the end of last year.
We had a brief spell of excitement when it stopped raining for a few days, together with drying winds where we got all of about two hectares of winter beans drilled.
However, it was still a little too wet and needed a couple of extra days drying so we stopped. We got an inch of rain that night and that put paid to that idea.
I have now done away with my two cropping plans – optimistic and pessimistic – and am focusing on just one, which is closer to the pessimistic version than I had hoped.
This includes a large area of cover cropping in order to improve saturated soils and allow for earlier activity for 2021 crops, rather than attempting to establish late drilled crops that are unlikely to perform and end up maturing too late, creating an inevitable workload clash for next season’s crops.
We have just purchased a new sprayer and have managed to sell the old one. Although this year is not well set up for expensive capital purchases, we have had issues previously keeping machines too long and faced big repair bills.
Although this season’s enforced cropping changes may result in fewer hours for the sprayers, there are going to be a few pinch points where they will be pushed hard and any downtime from breakdowns will be ill afforded.
We have chosen to go with the Chafer Interceptor, which we had a demo of last year and the team had the opportunity to visit the factory from which they came back very impressed. We also have it on the cards to investigate a move towards liquid fertiliser to better utilise the sprayers and to improve the efficiency of application (both the operation as a whole and the method of application).
With storage space at a premium this autumn, having sheds full of unused seed and fertiliser, it would be a real bonus not to have to worry about all the bags. Logistically, unloading lorries (often at the wrong time of year - harvest), loading trailers, carting to fields etc, solid fertiliser has its drawbacks.
Having said that we have always got on well with it, achieving high work rates in field, so we will explore the idea over the next season whilst we use up any leftover stock from this one.
The oilseed rape that survived flea beetle last autumn has not enjoyed the continued wet conditions this winter. Nor has it enjoyed the extra attention from pigeons that have outsmarted the bangers and rockets.
Walking the few remaining fields earlier in the week was a somewhat depressing task as it was no easy feat to spot the remaining stumps.
Trying to determine whether these fields will ever amount to a crop is not an easy task, doubtless swayed by the strong desire not to add to the already daunting spring drilling prospect. I guess the only positive I can try to take from it is that should it defy all odds and pull through, the disease and in particular, larvae pressure ought to be particularly low.
In a season such as this, it is going to be more important than ever to ensure that each spend is fully justified and provides value for money.
This is of course what we always strive for, but inevitably a large number of decisions through the season are based on insuring against risk.
The rewards may be increasing as crop prices nudge higher on the back of the low national plantings aiming to encourage imports into the UK, but the risks of overspending without realising those returns will put significant pressure on cashflow going forward.
Having already sold a greater proportion of the 2020 crop than intended, there is now reluctance to carry out further sales until we have some idea of what we can realistically achieve this spring.