Harvest is all done and dusted in record time this year, finishing on August 22. Well, all bar the canary seed that seems to get overlooked when working out the completion date, but even that should be tidied up before the end of August.
It has been an incredibly smooth run this season, with just a few rain breaks to give the team some well-deserved time off (conveniently both falling on a weekend).
Yields have, as many will have experienced, been very variable, almost entirely down to soil type. The oilseed rape was probably the crop that suffered the most this year, with winter barley averaging close to budget.
Wheat was down 8% on our five-year average. However it was the block I had predicted early on in the season to come bottom of the pile that surprised the most, yielding the highest at 9.7t/ha. It was the last one to receive nitrogen in the spring, having been late drilled on heavy ground, and therefore very wet in March and early April.
When walking this block for T1 it was evident it had lost a lot of tillers due to the stress from this delay, and was thin and open as a result. After the lack of rain in June and early July, the low ear count presumably provided the surviving plants with greater access to what little moisture remained in the soil, as they stayed greener significantly longer than any other crop and delivered a decent yield.
The problem with learning these sorts of lessons is that there is nothing to be taken forward into next year’s planning as, given a different weather pattern in the spring/summer, the outcome would’ve been completely different.
Preparation for 2019 crops has been a bit of a challenge so far in terms of deciding what to do with soils that are baked and well cracked, but knowing that conditions may be very different when we come to drill.
The decision of when and how to drill oilseed rape was the most difficult. We held off making a start until we had at least some rainfall (and more forecast) to try to give it the best start possible. We have also moved away from the usual method of establishment using a Sumo Trio to begin with, for fear of bringing up too many big clods that would not provide an ideal seedbed for an oilseed rape plant.
It has not been necessary to put a deep leg through some of our fields with the level of cracking that we have seen. So far, what we have established with the Horsch CO8 is just coming up and looking good, although we have moved more soil in the top few inches which could potentially lead to more black-grass germination, but we have at least not brought up any clods from depth. We are likely to return to the Sumo Trio for the later-drilled OSR once we have had a bit more rainfall, although this year we will keep the legs out as much as possible and the discs in to create a bit of tilth. Better to have a decent plant to compete against black-grass.
Over the last few years, we have been evaluating direct drilling options – in particular, no-till direct drilling. This has either been carried out continually throughout the rotation on one block, or as and when it has been appropriate to do so. Despite a lot of positive testimonials on social media, I am struggling to see a place for it here. I understand that it takes time for a new system to bed in, and that there can be a yield drop in the first few seasons, but it is difficult to make the economics stack up. Of course, this is not going to be helped by wheat reaching nearly £200/t. We will continue to evaluate it for another season, after which I will need to decide on our direction of travel.