With only 66mm of rain in January we have been very lucky compared to the rest of the UK. We have even managed to spread some TSP in the first week of February, travelling fine where ground has been min-tilled rather than ploughed.
The flooding elsewhere is a disaster; hopefully the weather pattern has changed for those affected by the time this is read. The only good which might come from these extreme situations is maintenance of waterways and flood defences can be done with some common sense. The 2013 Weather Aid Scheme after the blizzards last March could become a permanent part of UK agriculture, there could have been an annual levy in the CAP reform to provide funds for businesses when extreme weather events write off a year’s production, or agricultural insurance similar to that in countries where extreme weather has always been a problem.
Fertiliser planning has been quite straightforward; most crops will not receive any nitrogen until March. Winter barley and some late-sown oilseed rape will get some nitrogen when NVZ restrictions are lifted, but even these crops are still looking well, with no real signs of stress. Pigeons are the only thing causing us grief, with so much oilseed rape in the area they have free rein, they are fat like hen pheasants.
We are hauling some cattle muck to fields, with 1,500-2,000 tonnes hopefully applied every year to 50-60 hectares with lower than average P and K indices, conscious of changes to NVZ guidelines regarding N content in farmyard manure, as farmers in the area have been penalised already this year. So muck is being hauled to some strategic middens so we can get fields spread quickly in the summer before oilseed rape is sown.
Crop spraying will still be carried out by contractors, and although I would prefer we sprayed our own crops, because we have labour available in the spring and would guarantee more attention to detail, we can’t make the big changes necessary stack up, practically or financially. Aware of all the options available, what we would need are two high-spec, high-capacity self-propelled sprayers, and training for operators, time and fuel and everything else thrown in. The size and cost of these machines is the problem - with no other machine is the feasibility of owning and operating them so dependent on the contracted area staying at the same size.
With so little flexibility to increase acreage should the opportunity come along, and very expensive costs per hectare should we lose any ground, before all the other pros and cons are balanced up we won’t change this year. Combine harvesters are the same, it is just a farmer’s patience with a combine contractor and a sprayer contractor are very different things.
Machinery maintenance is all up-to-date and ready to roll. It is February, so I would like to buy some lorries so I could haul my own fertiliser, rather than deal with the chaos that is lorry drivers delivering fertilisers to seven different farm steadings, with two forklifts.
The Technology Crops trial plot at Cothill is quite interesting, as far as crop trials go. The difference in the vigour of the varieties is huge coming out of winter, especially between hybrids and conventional which is to be expected. But after methiocarb being banned it seems the debate whether to risk growing conventionals to lower seed cost is over, with so much now depending on fast establishment after important chemistry is being banned left, right and centre. The high erucic rape was all sold on a min price contract in July and the fantastic looking rape crops everybody has going into spring mean discussions from 2013 about life without oilseed rape in the rotation are over for now, despite the unpredictable soya market, slug pressure, the loss of neonicotinoids (and pigeons).
Others might use their word count to mention their national rugby team at this time of year, but not me, rugby is dead to me!