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Talking Arable with Neil MacLeod: We are preparing for a 30% OSR yield reduction, with compaction being the main culprit

In my last two articles I have made reference to the fact patience would be required before commencing 2020 spring work and I must say that I am quite pleased I listened to myself for once.

Neil MacLeod
Neil MacLeod

Land that was left in poor condition after potato lifting last autumn coupled with late sown power harrowed wheat land that has sat waterlogged all winter desperately needed a dry spring which, fortunately, is what it has had.

 

However, and I have to be very careful how I say this, the dry spell needs to stop now, otherwise we will be in trouble come harvest. Spring sowing came and went fairly effortlessly, with 280 hectares sown in a little under 10 days using a variety of cultivation and drilling methods to match conditions.

 

Potato planting has also been unhindered with only turnips and vining peas still to be sown. Pre-emergence herbicides and liquid ammonium sulphate have all been applied onto very dry, cobbly seedbeds, and with no rain forecast as I write this article on the April 19, crop emergence is variable across both the Conway spring oats and Laureate spring barley.


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Drought

 

What is concerning me more are some of my later sown winter wheats and oilseed rape, both of which are struggling to find moisture on light land, with compromised root development highlighting failings in the way we were forced to establish both crops last autumn.

 

With a five-year average yield of 4.1 tonnes/ha, I take great pride in our consistent ability to grow high yielding oilseed rape crops. However, my current prediction, with rape about to commence flowering, is we should prepare for a 30% yield reduction, with compaction being the main culprit.

 

It’s during periods of drought like we are experiencing that I often wonder, in relation to the benefits of soil absorbed moisture, what benefit or percentage of the aforementioned can be put down to foliar moisture absorbed through the leaf from a morning dew, coastal sea haar, or the odd millimetre of rain that barely registers on the gauge in terms of crop growth and survival.

 

Desperate thoughts, I know, but that comes with trying to grow crops in the extreme weather patterns that seem to be the norm these days.

 

We recently took delivery of an Isaria crop scanner, which we bought as an ex-demo unit from Agrovista, who are our agronomists here at Southesk.

 

Due to social distancing, I have not been able to have a run round with the operator, however, he has reported significant variation in nitrogen application rates, especially on our backward crops, and it has been interesting to see some of the downloaded biomass maps that have been created.

Trials

 

As part of our ongoing relationship with Agrovista, we are also carrying out some wheat variety trials and a spring barley establishment trial with them.

 

The spring barley trial will see a five-year comparison in the same fields of a traditional plough and press system versus a direct drilled establishment method with the direct drilled crop having an overwintered cover crop sown after harvest and thereafter the following spring a barley crop direct drilled into the cover crop.

 

Unsurprisingly, due to last autumn’s weather, the ‘real-life’ trial has not got off to a great start, as the cover crop containing phacelia, vetch and crimson clover was sown too late due to the wet conditions and subsequently didn’t really achieve much over winter.

Labour

 

Turning to fruit, we should start picking strawberries in about 10 days’ time with our seasonal staff requirements still to be sorted out. We have enough numbers to get us to mid-May, thereafter we have booked space on a chartered flight as a necessity.

 

The push for utilising local labour has offered some hope but unsurprisingly, not enough, however, we will just have to make the best of what’s a very bad situation for us all.

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