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Talking Arable with Jim Bullock: Winter to spring in 36 hours


Winter to spring in 36 hours; daytime temperatures have gone from 7degC to more than 20degC literally within hours. 

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Jim Bullock
Jim Bullock

We applied glyphosate to some of our over-wintered stubbles in early March hoping spring drilling was just around the corner, but it has taken nearly three weeks to work. In the meantime we have had another flush of meadow brome and ‘rats tailed’ fescue so have had to go out again with the sprayer and another dose of glyphosate.


We seem to be able to control black-grass and annual meadow-grass, but we have left a gap in our armour, which has let in these other invaders. Meadow brome has come to haunt us as we have more spring crops and it does not germinate until soil temperatures are above 8degC, so sits dormant until you plant a spring crop, then takes off when you think you are in the clear. The fescue has hit us because we use glyphosate as our main knock-down herbicide, but we have not been applying enough to kill it. We will have to up the rate of glyphosate (to more than 1,000g) and add more wetters to make it stick.


As Atlantis/Hatra (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron) is our last opportunity at controlling any over-wintered black-grass I have been careful to wait until conditions were right for it to work. Having had the chemical in store for more than a month and receiving the invoice further increased my resolve to apply it under only perfect conditions. In the past we have tried mixing it with our T0s, but not this year; another pass with the sprayer costs us little, but failed grass-weed control can nearly bankrupt you.


As I have said before, spring cropping is a good idea but putting it into practice is another matter. We have more than 35% of our cropped area going into spring beans which is a big risk, but past experience with other spring crops…I can live with the beans. A successful bean crop is all down to soil management, and that is down to patience.


At the end of Easter week we have only got about half of our planned area drilled, but as yet the heavy land is still too wet to think about moving. I did think back in the autumn we ought to be loosening some of our land prior to spring cropping, thank goodness the weather stopped me as the bits which we did have just turned to mud. Loosened soil without a crop (or cover crop) allows the silt elements to be washed through the soil profile creating a ‘mud layer’. On our soil types the best policy is to leave them alone until spring.


With so many beans in the rotation they are going to have to be a cash crop rather than a break-even break crop. With this in mind, we have upped the seed rate to give us 50 seeds/sq.m rather than 35-40 seeds/sq.m we have drilled in the past, which should help with weed control and if last year’s experiences can be duplicated, increase yields as well. The down side of this is the drilling rate is in excess of 300kg/hectare which is a challenge to both of our drills’ metering systems (Accord/Rauch), so forward speeds have been limited to just 8-10km/hour to avoid blockages, which has knocked about 20% off our usual daily drilling output. It is noticeable by reducing drilling speed, seed spacing and depth control is much better.


With the Basic Payment making up a considerable percentage of our income, time spent getting the application in on time and correct is paramount, so I have been to just about every meeting possible during the past six months to ensure I know what is required. I very much hope the online scheme will eventually be rolled out so my time was not wasted.


  • 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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