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Talking arable with Jim Bullock

For once I am not going to complain about the weather. This autumn, it has been on our side.
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Late drilling to combat black-grass #blackgrasscontrol

We had already taken the decision we would not drill any wheat until after the middle of October, which for us is a high risk strategy, but we cannot afford to ignore the potential black-grass problems.


It was perhaps fortunate we had 28mm of rain in six hours in the second week of the month, which stopped all field work. But it meant we have had two good hits (with glyphosate) at the black-grass, in late-September and middle of October, so with luck we will have reduced the seed bank at a very low cost.


We have drilled into perfect seedbeds: moist underneath and dry on top. It was strange to be blowing dust off the drill before putting it away for the winter, usually its several hours with the pressure washer to get the mud off it.


Later-drilled crops always take much longer to emerge, as do the weeds, so we have a bigger window to get any pre-em herbicides applied. We have gone back to one very black-grass-susceptible field with another 1.5 litres of glyphosate as we found a few black-grass plants daring to show their heads.


But last year’s experience showed us most pre-em sprays worked much better in late-October than in September. Early drilled crops appear to be more susceptible to chemical damage, probably due to higher soil temperatures and lush growth.


We have not had an oilseed rape crop on the farm for two years now and the one thing I am not missing is slugs. We have drilled into some pretty trashy seedbeds and as yet have not found one slug in our bait points.


Now we find ourselves in the situation with half of the farm planted with winter wheat which includes some second wheats (in low-risk black-grass fields), but we have a large area of spring crops to be planted. As ever our decisions will be dictated by the weather, but if we have some weather windows in November I might just plant some winter oats and some spring wheat.


Click here for a complete guide in tackling black-grass



Reset button

As much as I am in love with direct drilling and conservation agriculture when it doesn’t work there comes a time when you have to press the re-set button, i.e. by ploughing.


We did this last year on 20 hectares and it has worked because we are now able to direct drill again into this area; the weed burden has been dramatically reduced and the soil structure works again.


There is no need to be a martyr to a cause if it doesn’t work for you. On some of our soils we have been direct drilling for 15-plus years and it works, but unfortunately on some we just have to do some tillage or we end up with a compacted, weed-infested, infertile mess.


I have been growing cover crops since the mid-80s (starting with mustard before linseed) and more recently mixtures, but I am not so sure what they are ‘bringing to the table’ in these harsher economic times. I just wonder if my money would not be better spent on lime, sewage sludge and compost over which I have a greater degree of control.


It’s wishful thinking that by planting something like tillage radish it’s going to sort out your soil structure problems. It probably won’t even grow in the areas you are looking for soil reconstruction, it will grow well in the good areas. So do not scrap your subsoilers yet, just add a small seed applicator and plant a cover crop after soil loosening.


Click here to find out more about changing tillage equipment to gain more control.

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