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Talking arable with Ian Matts: The conditions we have faced this autumn really highlight the weaknesses

I was hoping to avoid starting too many of these articles by focussing on the weather this year, but it is difficult not to this time.

The conditions experienced have entirely driven what has happened, or more accurately a lack of what has happened, since I last wrote.

 

We aimed to start drilling winter barley on the lower black-grass pressure fields on September 23, however that was pretty much the day the rain started, and we have had two consecutive dry days just once since then.

 

Outstanding

 

We were able to make a start at that point, putting some wheat and beans in, but this represents just 4% of our outstanding workload for the autumn.

 

We have been careful not to utilise any half chances, where there would be little to no opportunity to return and apply the pre-ems.

 

I do not want to miss the boat with these important chemicals, only to have to return in the spring with glyphosate when black-grass populations explode.

 

Cultivations

 

The majority of fields do not look in a particularly good way this year with the amount and frequency of rain.

 

The worst fields are generally where we have cultivated shallow with a set of discs.

 

This was mostly where sewage sludge has been applied, and in hindsight a deeper cultivation would have been preferable to better rectify the compaction caused during application.

 

Although the discs often look to have done a good job from a distance, conditions like we have faced this autumn really highlight the weaknesses.

 

In some fields we have disced the middle of the fields and cultivated the headlands deeper and it is incredible to see the difference.

 

Direct

 

The land left stubble for direct drilling will take a while to dry out due to the layer of chopped straw reducing the impact of any drying winds, however, generally the soil is in good condition if things do turn around.

 

I have begun increasing seed rates to compensate for the later drilling, but so far, I have not been tempted to replace the shortfall for fear of not getting everything drilled this autumn.

 

At the same time however, I am reluctant to put my name on additional spring seed with so much winter seed sat in the sheds.

 

It was inevitable we would have a more trying autumn at some point considering the relatively easy ones we have been blessed with over the last couple of seasons, but I did not anticipate quite what we have had to deal with so far.

 

Establishment

 

Disappointingly, the efforts made to improve OSR establishment this season have not had the desired effect and we are faced with writing off a significant proportion once again.

 

Although dealing with cabbage stem flea beetle - both adults and larvae - may require drilling later, it is important to choose the correct varieties for this.

 

I have long been in favour of the vigorous hybrid varieties DK Expower and DK Extrovert, and have become used to them performing well from later drillings, but having recently switched to all Clearfield varieties it is clear to me that these do not perform in anything like the same way.

 

Having drilled in the second half of August due to the wet conditions at the start of harvest, the fields that have survived are still only at 4 leaf and have not met in the row, despite a 40% narrower row spacing.


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Talking arable with Ian Matts: OSR that survived flea beetle last autumn has not enjoyed the wet conditionsTalking arable with Ian Matts: OSR that survived flea beetle last autumn has not enjoyed the wet conditions

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