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Talking arable with Sophie Alexander: It's all a balancing act

I was all gung-ho about the merits of drilling spring crops early. In the back of my mind was the hangover fear of last year’s drought repeating itself.

The spring wheat and barley drilled in February looked promising at the offset but, in hindsight, perhaps I should have been more patient because the later, March-drilled fields look more vigorous, while fields sown in mid-February have capped in places and the result is some pale, hungry-looking patches.

 

Oats

 

As usual, though, it is all a balancing act. Frit fly favour late-drilled oats and, last year, the Elyann suffered as a result of delayed, post-deluge drilling in the second half of April.

The oat mill we supply has struggled with the consequent low kernel content.


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We have had 5mm of rain in the last 24 hours but, at the time of writing, only 20mm during the last three weeks. I went out today to dig some holes to look at soil structure, worms and rooting systems and found that, despite the recent rain, immediately below the surface the soil remains disquietingly dry.

 

Weeds

 

Autumn- and spring-sown cereals are both doing a good job of shading out burgeoning weeds, which is just as well as we have overshot the window of opportunity to use the Einbock tine weeder.

The plants were either too tender or the ground too wet and now the crops are too far advanced to be driven over and battered by tines.

 

 

I have no regrets at the moment because, as I have mentioned before, there is merit in avoiding any further field operations post-establishment. It is better for the ground and saves on fuel.

 

Surely hydrogen-powered farm machinery must be coming our way at a plausible price soon. I read hydrogen trains, cars and buses are in operation.

If more rigorous weeding does become an imperative on-farm over the next couple of years, then a guided inter-row hoeing system would be my preference, unless the robot solution becomes widely available first.

 

The hoe would necessitate the introduction of tramlines and wider drilling rows, both of which I would like to avoid if possible.

 

Technology

 

Dobbin, the equine crop walker, has been saddled up again and provides an advantageous view into the crop.

 

At the risk of seeming retro, I enjoy riding Dobbin more than flying a drone. But probably, like all good things, it’s not a question of doing one or the other – it’s both.

 

It is curious organic farming is sometimes referred to as a ‘lifestyle’ choice.

I don’t really understand the inference.

Surely, every farm system is a choice determined by a myriad of different considerations for selecting one system over another.

 

My decision to manage the farm organically is for resilience, financial as well as environmental, and I infinitely prefer not using chemicals.

 

It would be challenging to revert to chemical farming.

 

The Hippocratic Oath in medicine is ‘do no harm’. An equivalent in agriculture might be to do as little harm as possible, accepting no system is perfect and there is still plenty of room for improvement on all counts.

Farewell

 

This is my final article for Arable Farming.

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to write a column for 14 months.

My priority now has to be future-proofing the farm business.

 

On the premise it is best to stick to what you are interested in and enjoy, I am going to diversify into more farming.

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