With systems changing in recent years to respond to black-grass and other agronomic issues, large scale farm data collection and analysis is providing clues to their strengths and weaknesses.
Analysis of data from multiple farms and years is highlighting agronomic trends and providing farmers with information that could boost their production efficiency as they face up to a reduction in support payments.
The latest results for harvest 2017 show the average winter wheat yield for ProCam 4Cast growers is 9.2t/ha, 0.9t/ha above the Defra average, with the top 25 per cent of these growers achieving 10.4t/ha, according to ProCam managing director John Bianchi.
“By increasing efficiency of production, farmers can offset some of the harmful reductions in support payments. The main prerequisite for improvement is attention to detail in every decision. Timing of all operations is important – the day you drill is the most important day of all.”
The data showed that oilseed rape had the best gross margin in 2017, one of few crops that were achieving profitability without support payments. However, some growers reported that yields seemed lower after spring barley, a fact backed up by ProCam 4Cast data, says ProCam’s Mike Thornton.
“The best yield was following winter barley and the poorest following spring barley. Winter barley comes off in July allowing for more breakdown of trash and not the lock up of N there may be with spring barley. Also, with spring barley, if sulphonylurea is going on later a bit more of a residue build-up in soil could also impact on the following OSR crop. One option could be to grow a Clearfield variety which has tolerance to SU herbicides.
“If you have a slightly later drilling date for rape, look at anything that can help chlorophyll work more efficiently, for example, DAP,” adds Mr Thornton.
ProCam’s Nick Myers expects that although spring cropping remains a popular strategy for black-grass control, after difficulties getting crops in this spring, growers are likely to carry on drilling in the autumn if conditions are favourable. “Spring cropping has probably peaked and there may be some reversion back to winter cropping,” he predicts.
For growers drilling in autumn, ProCam 4Cast data has highlighted that while average drilling date has shifted from October 2 to October 12 between the harvests of 2011 and 2017, yield has not declined. Mr Myers says: “The thinking is that any yield penalty from later drilling is offset by crops containing less black-grass.
“Also, there may be scope for more growers to drill later. While the peak drilling date for the majority of growers was early October, the peak for growers in the top 25 per cent for winter wheat gross margin was after mid-October.”
Soil temperatures tend to be lower with later drilling which can help improve herbicide efficacy, says Mr Thornton. “There is slower degradation of the herbicide and soil should have a higher moisture content which will enable the herbicide to work better.”
However, it is important to consider factors such as seedbed, seed rate and variety when drilling later, he says. “With later drilling, you need to prepare a good seedbed to get the crop established quickly. You also need a wheat variety that can compensate for later drilling through tillering, or is flexible with regard to drilling date.”
With more black-grass issues reported this season than last, Mr Myers said this was likely to be because a particularly dry spring last year meant survivors did not flourish whereas this year a wetter spring favoured them.