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Talking Arable with Jim Bullock: A busy bank holiday

Pollen beetle numbers have exploded in certain fields to the extent we may need to re-drill
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Bank holidays always seem to coincide with the busiest times in our arable farming calendar.


May Day was no exception; running low of rape seed on the Friday before the weekend was not a good idea as it has taken a week to get seed delivered, by the time the merchant was back in his office and the couriers were back to normal.


The fine spring weather which attracts the general public to the countryside is just when we need to be spraying and it is not very good PR if our country visitors see a sprayer working in every other field, it just furthers their fears that we are ‘drenching’ the land with pesticides.


We have had to plant rather more spring rape than I would like to have done but it has been the best way to get our rotation back into to some form of order again. We have not direct drilled it as I am sure the crop’s germination is impaired by decaying weed or volunteer residues. We applied 50kg/ha of nitrogen to the stubbles then just moved the top 50mm of soil, to mix in the fertiliser and hopefully dilute any exudates produced by the decaying sprayed-off trash.


The rape has all established well as we have been fortunate to have sufficient moisture to get it away but we have had to apply a dose of slug pellets as slugs have been far more of a problem than we anticipated. Setting up traps baited with layers’ mash never gives us a true indication of the potential slug population. We find the occasional individual but very often a mass of ground beetles that come to devour the slugs feasting on the layers mash…you need dead slugs as a true indicator, perhaps a beer trap available at garden centres might be a better option.


We knew flea beetle was going to be a potential problem. So the insecticide is in store and the sprayer ready to go, but hardly a beetle to be found on the warm sunny days when you would expect to find them, certainly not worth spraying. But the weather has changed over here in the western side of the country, windy, showery certainly not spraying days so as expected the pollen beetle numbers have exploded in certain fields to the extent we may need to re-drill. Just the growth stage when the neonics would have protected our crop.


Having severely damaged spring rape crops in the past by applying pre-em herbicides we like to wait until the crop is up in row and we can see the tramlines before applying anything like metazachlor, but if we don’t get any spraying days we could have some weedy crops on our hands.


Had the spring bean seed not been quite so expensive I think we would have been better off planting more of it. We direct drilled the beans with our tined drill, rolled and applied a pre-em herbicide. Drilling into moisture and warm soils we have had excellent germination and establishment, with nitrogen fixing nodules appearing on the roots already. We had sufficient rainfall to wash in the herbicide and that appears to be working well, and as yet the pea and bean weevil has not shown up. So what can go wrong? I guess everybody else will be in the same boat so there will be a glut of beans come harvest and the prices collapse.


A month ago I really felt we had done a pretty good job on our black-grass control in the winter wheat but since then we seem to have had another flush of seedlings (especially in some of the more backward and thin crops). The problem is that we have used most of the weapons in our armoury so can do little to control it. I really believe that the only way we are going to get on top of the problem is by using more lime and gypsum to improve the soil’s chemistry and also double (spring) break cropping.


  • Jim Bullock farms in a family partnership at Guarlford, near Malvern, Worcestershire. He is a keen proponent of conservation tillage techniques and is a founder member of the conservation agriculture group BASE-UK.
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