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Talking arable with Ian Matts: These drier springs mean we need careful consideration when planning future cropping

Conditions eventually improved enough to make a start drilling this spring, nearly a full month after we had hoped. There was a bit of a false start, with rain suddenly appearing on the forecast and arriving earlier than anticipated following the first 150 hectares.

Despite this, the team did well to finish nearly 650ha of spring drilling in just over 10 days. This involved multiple moves and plenty of changes in seed, as six different crops have been established this spring. It also included a slightly larger area than planned as some of the poorest established wheat failed to improve following the difficult start to the spring, therefore the decision was made to take some out and redrill with spring barley.

 

Moisture

 

Looking at the soil moisture deficit graph over the last two years for the start of September through to the middle of April, it shows a very interesting picture. The similarity between the two years is remarkable, with a dramatic drop in the deficits each year following high levels of rain in autumn – albeit a little latter in 2020 than 2019 – followed by a continued wet spell over winter and a rapid drying in spring.

 

The 2020/21 season is almost an exact replica of 2019/20, just shifted by 10 days and slightly more extreme. Looking back to autumn 2018, this shows a much more gradual reduction in the SMD over autumn/winter. However, what is quite surprising is the similar trend at the end of March and into April. This really highlights the increasingly drier springs we have been facing and although three years does not necessarily show a trend, it does appear to be more common and something that will clearly need careful consideration when planning future cropping.

Spring crops

 

Despite the conditions now turning quite dry, and no rain on the forecast, all spring crops have gone into moisture and were rolled in good time. The earliest drilled are just starting to come through, so although they will be in need of rain before too long, the dry conditions haven’t so far been an issue. Of greater concern is likely to the be the colder temperatures, especially the recent overnight frosts, which are driving soil temperatures in the wrong direction for the time of year.

 

Having reached just over 10degC in March, following the brief summer-like weather, they have since almost halved, not a great situation for spring crops that ideally want to hit the ground running. Despite this, conditions for these crops are as good as could be expected and better than last year, when soils dried too quickly for the spring cropping area we had to drill.

 

Recent temperatures are really the driving factor on the ground at the moment. Winter crops were beginning to grow well, having started to pick up the earlier applied nitrogen. The yellow rust that was present in almost all varieties a few weeks ago has now been controlled through a mixture of chemical means and environmental factors.

 

Growth

 

The cold weather has also put the brakes on these crops, creating a reluctance to apply any growth regulators at the moment. The last time we had late frosts we cut back on growth regulators and the winter barley motored afterwards. I was a bit apprehensive when some pre-harvest storms hit as it looked very close to going flat and was standing very tall.

 

With the main field work starting to slow down this month, attention has turned to small plot work again. Winter bird food plots have all been topped and sprayed off and will shortly be worked ahead of drilling later in the month as and when soil temperatures rise.


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