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Steve Heard: New autumn cover crop mix provides an intriguing start for spring planting

Continued overnight frosts and cold wet soils are doing little to promote any spring growth. Early applied fertilisers sat too long waiting for rain and, even now after a second dose, are showing limited effect.

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A nervous wait to see what happens with blackgrass....

 


OSR has been trying to catch up but increased day length seems to force it through development stages rather than gaining significant growth. The first yellow buds are appearing, yet it is still barely knee height.


With my earliest T0 fungicides being applied in the second week of April, it is apparent how far behind last year we are already. I cannot wholly blame the weather, undoubtedly our delayed drilling has not helped. As some conciliation, all crops show little disease pressure and our fungicide spend has been favourably adjusted.


I guess I must concede we had perhaps become a little lazy and greedy during recent years, happy to major on growing just wheat and OSR. The economics and logistics of a simple cropping rotation are undeniable, but all good things must come to an end. With changes already in mind we have for the last two years been experimenting with different ways to successfully establish spring crops into our heavier clay soils. This season we have gone one step further. Straw sales revenue from the designated fields was used to buy black oats, vetches and clover cover crop which we drilled last September. Over winter the varied green plants, along with an inevitable number of weeds, have established a mass of healthy roots to help condition the soil and feed the worms I am trying to encourage.


Two weeks ago, we sprayed with glyphosate the day before direct drilling spring beans into a neat fibrous slot 100mm (3in) deep. Our disc drill did a fantastic job cutting through green foliage and roots and, with such little disturbance, it was a challenge to see where we have been. After waiting a few days for some rain to moisten the soil, I applied the pre-emergence spray and a second dose of glyphosate just to be sure no black-grass could escape. Now I nervously wait, fingers firmly crossed.

 

Steve Heard, Leicestershire

Steve Heard farms at Illston on the Hill, Leicestershire. He grows a variety of combinable crops on 1,192ha (2,945 acres) of land, which is rented and contract farmed. He also runs an arable contracting business, and is a keen user of new technology.

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