Arable Farming Feb 18

As I write this in the middle of February this time of year always seems to bring a few false dawns. A few dry sunny days can tempt you into thinking spring is just around the corner, then just as quickly as the optimism arrived, it feels as though we plunge back into the middle of winter; although the days are getting noticeably longer. With every spring like day comes the urge to be getting on and doing something, however the wet weather over December and since has meant the ground is still a bit too wet to travel, so we will just have to maintain our patience.

Oilseed rape crops have gone backwards in places where the pigeons have arrived and it would be good to get on with some nitrogen before long, as despite the recent frosts, the crops do appear to be picking up. All winter crops will receive a slightly higher first dose of nitrogen than previous years (up to 100kgN/ha for the latest drilled crops). This is due in part to the later drilling, but also the conditions last autumn ahead of drilling were not ideal in places, therefore if things dry up this spring as they have in previous years, I want to ensure there is plenty of nitrogen in the soil early on.

The winter has provided a good opportunity to catch up with machinery maintenance jobs as well as trying to get on top of ditching and drainage work and gearing up for a move to RTK. We have repaired drains as and when problems occurred in the past, however we need a much more proactive approach going forward, to try to eliminate the problems from occurring in the first place. It is impressive to see the differences where the work has been carried out, with one block of land suffering particularly badly last year as a result of blocked drains and ditches. Having had significant work carried out over autumn and winter some barley fields are now barley showing any sign of yellowing this year as water is now moving away more freely.

We have recently made the decision to invest in RTK technology. With only combinable crops and a decent level of accuracy previously, the decision to invest was more marginal than it may have otherwise been, however we felt it was the right one. We have joint forces with a neighbour to share the base station which has helped to some extent, but feel the major benefits should come from an increase in tramline width to 36m. Having an 8m drill, we will need the extra accuracy to put in the tramlines. One of the upcoming jobs will be to map the boundaries of all the fields in preparation for the switch ahead of next years crop. Hopefully we will be able to familiarise ourselves with the requirements before then.

On top of the spring barley drilling and game plot requirements, it feels as though the spring workload has increased significantly with the additional countryside stewardship requirements. All farms have previously been in some form of stewardship, however there is now a mixture with some still finishing off HLS schemes, some recently entered mid-tier and some higher-tier. It doesn’t help that not all the applications have been decided on yet; leaving a question mark over what to do with fields planned for schemes, but hopefully a decision will be made before we start drilling.

Early next month we have another member of the team starting with us. This will see our permanent staff increase from 2 to 4 in the last twelve months. This represents a switch from part-time seasonal labour to full time, partly to reflect the changes that have occurred over the last few years, moving towards later drilling in the autumn meaning seasonal staff are often no longer available, and an increase in spring workload. With these changes we are now looking forward to developing a young and dynamic team that will hopefully be well placed to adapt to the changing requirements of agriculture over the coming years, not least the increasing technological demands.