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Steve Heard: The temptation to start drilling proves too strong, but kind weather helps

It is all very well for the agronomy experts to promote delayed drilling for improved black-grass control, but doing nothing is a whole lot more stressful than it sounds.

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Having promised myself I would wait until the 10th month, we inevitably started just a few days early. Perhaps next year I shall be braver, but using our new i-specification Deere drill for the first time meant we needed to allow time for any potential teething problems. Fortunately there were remarkably few. So after gaining confidence within some lightly cultivated fields, we then put the new machine properly to test direct drilling wheat into spring bean stubble, with very pleasing results.

 

I am hopeful long-term we will perhaps eliminate virtually all cultivations, but our improving soils are not at that stage yet. In the meantime we will monitor the differences within our crops, as we compare numerous different cultivations prior to the two different drills and alongside some zero till establishment. It will be disappointing if the new practices are not seen to outperform the old established system.

Logistics

Comforted by the knowledge I now had two nine-metre drills fully operational, we then waited until October. Running two large seeders sounds a luxury but the logistics of managing seed, fertiliser, slug pellets and Avadex granules in separate places can be a challenge and the one set of ring rolls were very busy.

 

Thankfully the weather forecasters were accurate, both drills were finished and pre-emergence sprays applied before the heavy rains arrived. We still have one field as a later drilling experiment to be done and some contract work, but I am now glad we had not waited any longer.

 

Our rolled seedbeds are some of my best ever and sprayed using doubled or triple water rates applied as a fine spray for ultimate coverage. If this season’s residual chemistry does not perform to expectation, it cannot be blamed on application technique or any lack of soil moisture.

 

With Louise’s home-grown black-grass trial still now only at 53 per cent germination, surely later drilling heavy land can never be the whole answer and we are still bound to rely on some chemical solutions.

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