Arable Farming April 18

Direct Drilled winter barley - light land

Reading back over last month’s comments when my copy of Arable Farming arrived in the post, I thought how optimistic I had been that spring was just around the corner. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that a month later I would still be writing the same messages about waiting for the land to dry out before we can get on with the spring workload!

We are now heading towards the end of April and we are yet to make a start on our spring drilling. The heavier ground currently resembles a good brownie; it has a hard crust but is very moist and gooey on the inside, so it may take a bit of time still before we can get going. This week has been the promised one weather-wise, but it did not get off to a great start with some heavy rain on Sunday and showers early in the week. Thankfully we have since had a drier few days, with warm temperatures and some drying winds, so we hope to make a start before too long. However, we must make sure we are patient, as being late we need to ensure the seed goes into the best possible seedbed to ensure it is in and out as quickly as possible. As illogical as it may seem now (although not necessarily when reading this), but we also need to bare in mind that the season could yet correct itself through a prolonged hot and dry spell. This would be the worst situation for a late established spring cereal with a very small root system, so we need to ensure we conserve moisture at drilling; should this be the case.

Winter oilseed rape crops continue to reluctantly creep into flower. I had been expecting a sudden growth spurt as warmer temperatures arrived, but so far this is not the case. As a result, crops have been hanging around the green to yellow bud stage for a long time. Although I was not initially concerned about pollen beetle due to the colder weather, I have recently been walking crops that are above the threshold. Having never sprayed for pollen beetle before, I am reluctant to start now, as I still feel these crops are about to burst into flower before too long (probably before we are likely to get caught up with all the other outstanding plans) by which time they will no longer be a concern. The crop’s growth pattern this year has been quite vertical so far, so there is also a good potential for side branching, which will hopefully fully compensate for any lost buds from pollen beetle, and hopefully from damage caused by flea beetle too. It feels as though the OSR has had a tough time of things so far this year, with higher flea beetle damage in the autumn than we’ve experienced before, heavy pigeon grazing over winter, flea beetle larvae easily found in leaves and stems and now pollen beetle. I just hope this isn’t followed by a high sclerotinia year.

Whilst walking crops, peeling back leaf layers to see which is emerging, it can often be very different just from field to field at this time of the year. It is even more exaggerated on the direct drilled fields, where these differences can often occur within a few feet, especially in areas where the crop is held back due to waterlogging or compaction issues. On our lighter, less challenging soil types it is not so bad, with crops looking much more even, but it is very evident where the soil is a bit heavier and it was wet last autumn after harvest.

Hopefully reading this back when it arrives at the door I will be able to smile, knowing that all the spring drilling is safely done and dusted and coming through – fingers crossed!