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Talking Arable with Jim Bullock: My first late harvest in thirty three years

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Some of our soils especially those high in silt and sand have never recovered since the deluge of 2012
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Harvest has been very much as predicted, the first wheats performed at or just below our five-year average (7.5 tonnes/ha).

 

The second wheats, usually after spring wheat, have been pretty dismal, in places yielding as low as 3.75t/ha where the meadow brome really took hold. Not helped by the fact we were growing Invicta which does not like any competition at grain fill (weeds or moisture stress). Our spring wheat has really been the star performer, averaging well in excess of 7.5t/ha having cost very little to grow, so it will certainly be in the rotation again next year especially if there is a hint of any grass-weeds.

 

At time of writing, we have yet to complete harvesting spring beans and what remains of our spring rape. So far, yields have been all over the place again in tune with weed competition. There is nothing worse for spring beans than a dry July and a wet August as it allows a second germination of broad leaved weeds in the bottom of the crop which have to be sprayed off prior to combing to avoid loads of rubbish coming in with the crop.

Black-grass

What has surprised me has been the level of black-grass which has appeared in some of the spring beans which looked clean back in June. The plants are small, suggesting they probably only germinated a few weeks ago, but even so they have put up a seed head and are flowering.

 

Some of our soils, especially those high in silt and sand, have never recovered since the deluge of 2012. The surface has a good tilth but underneath the structure has become massive and the crop roots have only found their way down between the cracks, leading to reduced yields. So the decision has been taken on 20ha to press the ‘re-set’ button and get the plough out. It pains me to have to do so after 17 years non-inversion tillage and latterly direct-drilling, but I hope it will re-structure the soil and bury any remaining grass-weeds.

 

I am also concerned where we have had poor weed control since 2012, the continuous use of glyphosate and accompanying decaying weeds have an effect on crop establishment.

Wheat

The early wheat harvest had its benefits where we have been trying to get cover crops established. Again we have been trying various mixtures but, to date, just a pure stand of oil radish looks like being the most useful, as it was up in row in just 10 days after planting.

 

Some of the other mixtures (rye/vetch) have yet to cover the ground even after over a month after drilling.

 

A bonus cover-crop has been white clover which appeared in stubbles of a direct drilled wheat crop after a previous short-term ley. The clover is now well above the stubble and is producing masses of root nodules, so the plan will be to leave it as long as possible prior to direct-drilling a second wheat. A low dose of glyphosate might be just enough to keep it in check to allow the wheat to get away. In an

ideal world I would like to keep it alive through the growing season so it could act as a companion crop for the winter rape planned for 2015/16.

 

If I was a businessman, not a farmer, I would not be planting any crops for harvest 2015 looking at the present prices, but looking at all the instability in the world, things could be very different in 12 months’ time. So we will be drilling all our planned area of winter wheat (all first wheats for 2015) along with some winter beans as we have seed in stock, but everything else will be spring sown and if input costs look like being higher than output, we might just have a few acres of fallow. I see no point in planting what we can be sure will be a loss-making crop.

  • 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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