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Talking arable with Andrew Robinson: No compromise on black-grass

Weather frustrations crept in for the last part of August and early September just when the end of harvest was in sight.
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Andrew Robinson talking arable: black-grass cannot be compromised #talkingarable

However, on the positive side it meant the rape had much-needed moisture to get established. The crop has come through very well, but with soil temperatures around 4 degC lower than in a normal year and with the huge straw residue I took the decision to apply 30kg of nitrogen to aid the crop.


Rape pre-emergence herbicides this year consisted of 2.5 litres/hectare of Muntjac (metazachlor + dimethenamid-p) due to presence of cranesbill in most of the rape areas, plus some Remix (adjuvant) which improves the efficacy of soil-applied herbicides. An application of slug pellets has been applied after some slugs were found lurking beneath the surface.


Last of the wheat to go through the combine after the end of rain was a block of Leeds at home, the bushel weight had dropped to 74kg/hl and there was unfortunately some evidence of sprouting particularly from the light land areas, despite which however, it still managed to deliver 13.11 tonnes/ha.


Beans were then harvested over two-and-a-half days and produced a decent crop at 6.20t/ha and, with very little bruchid damage, they hopefully should make human consumption specification. Harvest finally concluded on September 11, around a week later than we would normally expect but not surprising since we started a week later.


Pre-emergence herbicides on the wheat this year will be our usual robust mixture of Crystal (flufenacet + pendimethalin), Liberator (flufenacet + diflufenican), Defy (prosulfocarb), DFF (diflufenican) followed by Avadex (tri-allate).


While these mean costs for controlling black-grass are extremely high, if we are able to achieve what we did this year with the same programme – 100% control – then I am prepared to spend the money. Controlling black-grass cannot be compromised in any way, my view being if you are not prepared to spend money to control black-grass then the following options apply: sow late, that is after mid-October; go to spring drilling; use fallow and/or a cover crop.


Each farm will have to decide which option suits their system and which will produce the best gross margin along with the ultimate goal of long-term control of this pernicious weed.


We have used all methods over the years and we know from experience here at Toddington on heavy land spring drilling not only comes with its own challenges but does not always ensure black-grass-free crops. Fallow has always ensured our best long-term black-grass control allowing for multiple application of glyphosate.


I have concerns about cover crops and their true value, along with the costs of both seed and the associated costs including drilling, rolling, spraying, topping and slug pelleting. For some they will be an excellent option, for others not so. The deep rooting crops give me the greatest concern with respect to our drainage system as we have enough issues with rape and wheat roots in our land drains never mind radish roots which will travel down two metres-plus.


Sam has started ploughing the ground in preparation for next year’s spring bean crop. We have tried various methods of cultivation but ploughing has always produced the best results in terms of both yield and black-grass control.


My staff have worked extremely hard again this year, so thank you Paul, Sam and the students who have been excellent – Rosco and Dougie who are both heading back to Harper Adams, Lee is off to work in New Zealand and Tom, who will head back home to Shropshire to start out on his new career.

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