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No fast fix for field operations

Progress with winter wheat drilling remains slow, with rain last week hindering field operations and agronomists urging caution despite a few days of drier, frosty weather.

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Agrii agronomist Neil Harper, based in Kent says although a small number of growers are considering drilling, it is still too wet. “The frost has not been enough to take the weight of machinery. Ground is wet underneath and if you are putting seeds into wet ground they will rot off. It is a case of being patient until conditions are right.

 

“You will not get many tillers so it is best to up seed rates to about 550 seeds/sq.m.”

 

When applying herbicides, it is important to read the label, says Mr Harper. “For some products containing flufenacet there is a cut off at the end of December.”

 

Ian Johnson, agronomist at Agrovista, who covers North Yorkshire and part of County Durham says some growers were drilling winter wheat in mid-January. “But it is no good mauling it in. If the land is alright and you can plough and combination drill, then go ahead and do it but adjust seed rates accordingly.”


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Stale seed beds

 

Some of the worst affected fields have been where stale seedbeds have been created to enable black-grass control, says Mr Johnson. “They have never really got dry. With stubble there is a better chance of getting on.”

 

About 50 per cent of winter wheat is drilled in Mr Johnson’s area. “Further north it gets better and further south it gets worse. Lincolnshire seems to be the worst of all.”

 

Although quite a number of oilseed rape crops were hit badly with cabbage stem flea beetle for the first time in his area and have lacked vigour, he urges growers not to give up on such crops prematurely. “Even if you only get a tonne an acre it is worthwhile as the price is likely to be strong. For spring barley, beans and oats the prices don’t look exciting. There is no need to decide yet; not until the end of next month or the beginning of March.”

Tackling 3 land challenges

1) Land damaged by late harvest of crops, particularly maize and potatoes

 

In many places this land is in a mess with standing water, which by now may be just waterlogged soil. Where there is significant clay content this soil will be very 'plastic' and prone to more damage and being pressed further down the profile if great care is not taken.

 

If these soils can be left to drain, assuming that land drains are operational, this is the best course of action. Sometimes pulling a tine through may help to get the water away but there is a high risk of additional damage if this is attempted too early.


2) Land cultivated in preparation for autumn drilling before soils became too wet

 

This land will be extremely vulnerable to compaction but there will be extreme pressure to get back on the land as soon as possible.

 

On cultivated land at Frontier’s Cambridgeshire clay loam soil demonstration site last autumn, just one low ground pressure pass of a sprayer increased the time required for water to infiltrate by 200 times, highlighting the vulnerability of these soils.

 

In these circumstances, light axle weights and low pressure tyres are essential.

3) Land that has not been touched since last harvest

Potentially, these will be the first fields fit to travel, and ploughing may be considered but there is a risk of smearing and sealing at the furrow bottom.

 

Whichever cultivation programme is considered, the number of passes must be minimised and zero till methods adopted where possible.

 

Source: Mike Slater, fertiliser technical development manager, Frontier Agriculture.

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