The month started well, with confirmation of our successful tender for the green waste contract which we currently have with the council; the extension is for a further five years with an additional five years available, this will give us the financial security to invest in this side of the business. On the compost front, we have had our busiest year and have started 2015 with record tonnage coming into the site for the first two months.
The wet middle and end to February ensured the sprayer was confined to the shed. Although this was frustrating, there seemed little point in applying nitrogen to crops with a soil temp of just 3.1degC (February 22) and which were saturated. More patience was required.
March 5 finally saw the Bateman come out of its winter hibernation to spray off the area destined for spring beans, with 2.5 litres/hectare of glyphosate to ensure as clean a start as possible.
Warmer temperatures at the end of the first week of March and an increase in soil temperature to 5.1degC, along with drier conditions saw us apply 350 litres/ha of N25:14SO3 to oilseed rape. This was then swiftly followed by an application of 200 litres/ha of N35:7SO3 to the winter barley over at the Boughton farm. All wheats too have now received their first nitrogen dose of N35:7SO3, with 240 litres/ha applied to the milling wheats and 215 litres/ha to the soft wheats.
Even though the pre-emergence and early post-emergence herbicides have done a fantastic job in the wheat, we have had a small amount of black-grass come through in patches in certain fields, so as the ground temperature increased we patch-sprayed 0.4kg/ha of Atlantis (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron) plus Biopower (adjuvant).
Wheat crops are starting to develop some good root systems and are moving through the growth stages, some September-drilled Skyfall nearing T0 (GS30, ear at 1cm) as of March 13. As this area of the farm is particularly bad for eyespot one-litre/ha of Tracker (epoxiconazole + boscalid) plus one-litre/ha Bravo (chlorothalonil) will be the fungicide of choice here, along with some liquid manganese and some growth regulation in the form of Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) and some chlormequat.
Variable costs for growing these wheat crops have increased to such an extent they represent 44% of our cost of production, some 9% more than 10 years ago. With high yields being a key driver to reducing cost of production, I cannot see this figure falling much despite our efforts to push yields even harder.
We have one field here at Toddington, which, when in rape suffers from verticillium wilt, so an application of 0.75 litres/ha of Amistar (azoxystrobin) has been applied at early stem extension; this will be followed up by a second spray at early flowering.
The variable rate seed drilling maps have been produced for the spring beans and I have decided to up the seed rate by 10% this year on the back of work done by PGRO. Within this, trials will be done at even higher seed rates to see if there is any yield difference. It comes as no surprise PGRO’s work suggests higher seed rates give higher yields as we have often noted increases in yield on the drilling overlaps in previous years. Drilling the beans will take place next week (w/c March 16) after two dry weeks have dried the ground sufficiently.
Marketing has gone totally flat for old crop, however various news from around the world, including high levels of frost kill in Russia and Ukraine, has prompted me to scratch two forward wheat contracts to resell at what I hope will be a higher price. With another small contract I bought some call options for £6, so I have secured a minimum price, and it will allow me to capture any improvement.
Andrew Robinson is farms manager at Heathcote Farms, Bedfordshire. He is a former winner of the nabim/HGCA Milling Wheat Challenge