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Talking Arable with Jim Bullock: Planting spring crops seems a good idea in the autumn

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Planting a lot of spring crops seems like a very good idea in the autumn, but come mid-March and a certain degree of subconscious panic sets in! Although we have recorded daytime temperatures of 16C these have been followed by frosts. So no great urgency to spray any remaining un-sprayed winter wheat yet!

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As soil conditions have allowed us to travel without leaving a mark I have taken the opportunity to apply 58 kgs/N/ha of urea to our winter wheat. The early sown crops are showing signs of nitrogen deficiency (yellow where the crop was double drilled) and the later crops need some nitrogen to maintain tillers.

 

Our next dressing will be ammonium sulphate, which will be topped up with another dressing of urea later on in April. I had planned to use a compound fertiliser but it proved to be way too expensive; so I will have to make another pass through the wheat crops to get the levels of sulphur and potash I think they need to utilise the nitrogen on our hi-mag soils.

 

On the subject of potash, we are going to place some P with our spring beans this year. We have always treated spring beans as a Cinderella crop and never really bothered with any nutrients yet we spend a fortune on rape with soil applied primary P and N in the seedbed and then foliar nutrients boron and so on. Looking at the potential margins for spring beans, I think we need to apply at least 75kgs/ha of K and I would like to try and get some sulphur into the

crop, but that is a bit of a challenge. If we can grow 4-5 tons/ha of spring beans it’s a crop that will out-perform rape by a long way and we can do away with slugs and pigeons as an added bonus.

 

I had great plans of trying numerous options with our cover crops pre-spring planting, but the weather has dictated the only feasible outcome: spraying off with Glyphosate and direct-drilling. We did flail of a small area but this left a surface mulch which has kept the soil very wet and encouraged some unwelcome visitors (slugs). We tried several (cover crop) establishment methods including direct-drilling alongside broadcasting and incorporating with a disc cultivator. During the winter there nothing to choose between the two systems but now we can see that where the soil was moved we have more grass weeds.

 

At this point in time I think we are at about the same stage as everybody else with our BSP application; we have registered but cannot get any further as it is not possible to save any of our inputted data. We are now only eight weeks away from the submission deadline so let’s just hope the system is sorted very soon! I fear we may not see the prompt payments we have enjoyed (from the RPA) during the first week of December, and cash-flow adjustments may need to be planned for.

 

At a local ‘Campaign for the Farmed Environment’ Soil Cross Compliance meeting led by the well-known soil expert Simon Draper, I left feeling that we were bound to fall foul of one or more of the criteria demanded of us, and be subsequently fined!

 

At the end of last month we made our bi-annual pilgrimage to SIMA which, although interesting, we found the major players in the cultivation kit arena all have very similar machines – disc tine cultivator combinations and disc/packer/twin disc drills all the same, just painted different colours. The tractors just get ever bigger to pull the bigger kit to undo the damage done by the bigger heavier machinery and so the downward spiral continues. The only machines I would have bought at the show were the Simtech-T-Sem drill which is British made, or perhaps the Sky Easy-Drill which started life as an Irish designed Moore!

 

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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