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Talking Arable with Jim Bullock: An abrupt halt to field work


All field work came to an abrupt halt at the end of October due to yet another prolonged wet spell.

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All field work came to an abrupt halt at the end of October due to yet another prolonged wet spell. We had in excess of 100mm of rain during November. It put my plans for planting any Belepi wheat on hold and any further spraying became just a distant thought. No doubt we will get a dry December and will need to be spraying over the Christmas holiday. 


Winter beans direct seeded at the end of October have been sitting in water ever since they were planted. Fortunately we were able to get a pre-em herbicide Linzone/Kerb (clomazone + linuron/propyzamide) on before the rain started and so far the crop looks weed free.


But emergence has been slow, so just about every possible pest has been able to have a go at them: rooks, slugs and rabbits. The rabbits do not like the taste of beans, but they have the annoying habit of biting off the emerging plant then spitting it out.


Where we were able to get Crystal (flufenacet + pendimethalin) +Lexus (flupyrsulfuron) onto the earlier sown wheat crops it has done a good job, with little black-grass surviving, but still being mild I suspect we may not have seen the back of it yet. Our later sown crops have all emerged well with few grass-weeds evident as yet, which is fortunate as we will need more than just a few dry days before we can travel. With the continuing mild weather we are seeing some slug damage (after spring beans) so have not put the slug pelleter away yet. 


Returning to black-grass, we have found another weapon in our armoury in the form of oil radish. We planted it as pure stand and in a mixture with other species and it has done a good job in smothering or creating toxins which black-grass does not seem to like. The radish was drilled early in August and grew away well within 10 days or so. 


We did see some brome and volunteers in the rows between the plants, but as soon as the radish grew away they disappeared, and as yet we have seen little black-grass. I put it down to the fact our black-grass does not usually germinate until early October, by which time we had 100% ground cover from the radish so no black-grass. Whether it is sitting dormant on the soil surface or has rotted or germinated and died remains to be seen. 

Also in this series

  • Andrew Robinson - Talking Arable - January 2015
  • Iain Green - Talking Arable - January 2015

Open question

Deciding when to terminate a cover crop and what to do with the surface material is an open question; flailing or spraying off are not an option with the present ground conditions. A dose of hard frosts might help us decide, but I suspect we will be chopping them a few days before direct-drilling beans next spring.


On a recent BASE-UK visit to central France we were able to look at a variety of cover crops and how they fitted into our host farmer’s system. An earlier harvest and higher cumulative temperatures means the amount of biomass which can be produced in a relatively short time span is much greater than we could expect to do year-on-year in the UK. It was impressive to see how it is possible to double crop (winter barley/ buckwheat/winter wheat), which is only possible by using direct seeding.


Due to various land laws French growers have difficulty expanding the size of their holdings through renting or purchasing extra land. In the area we visited, they look to grow added value products (such as buckwheat), include livestock grazed on over-wintered cover crops, along with cost-cutting techniques such as cover cropping and totally rethinking crop rotations. Often they will work with other farmers to spread costs and expertise over a larger area which is another way of expanding their businesses without extra land.

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