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Rodney Down: Spring starts slowly, and I wonder if more cattle might help the wheat crops?

Would buying more fence posts and wire help to improve wheat yields, wonders Rodney Down
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Are cover crops just a sticky plaster for years of too much cultivation and neglect?

Spring is here at last. Yesterday saw us hit 20degC, and things were looking up until I had to scrape the ice on the windscreen the next morning.


It has truly being the slowest spring for a while. This has helped spread the workload a little as T0 fungicides are only just being applied. Grass is also easy to manage as it is not racing ahead of the cows. Only a small area of maize land has been ploughed for fear of baked furrows but this should alter this week as my ideal start time of April 16 approaches. The seed merchants never did drop the seed price because of the weak euro!

Cover crops are being evaluated at the moment. Our mustard and spring bean mix planted in August last year has produced some pretty impressive spring bean plants. Plough blockages aren’t as bad as we thought, but the proof will be in the following maize crop.

My best wheat this year is on the worst soil, where the fields were down to grass for 15 years. The soil is alive with worms and my nitrogen use is half of the other land. So, I am wondering is a cover crop being asked too much of? Is it a sticky plaster for years of too much cultivation and neglect? Should we be putting down a five year ley and actually grazing cattle on the land? If so, I had better buy some fence posts and wire!

The trouble is with short term Farm Business Tenancies and contract farming there is little security to see a long term plan out.

Are we sick of the election yet? Most of my various lease agreements are dealt with by one very well respected land agent and auctioneer. His wife is now standing for the Conservatives here and I think she might do all right. It is very tempting however to get hold of another party’s signs and put in the fields. Rent reviews would be interesting next year!


Rodney Down, Somerset

Rodney Down farms with his wife Claire at Higher Wrantage Farm, Taunton, Somerset, with 125ha (307 acres) on a farm business tenancy and a further 323ha (800 acres) rented and contract farmed. He milks 300 Holstein Friesians and runs 350 beef cattle and followers. The farm includes 180ha (445 acres) feed wheat and 61ha (150 acres) of maize.

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