Arable Farming March 18

What a difference a day makes (or two) at this time of year. Until this last week, we were rapidly heading towards the end of March barely having turned a wheel. We have at least managed to get on with some nitrogen now, but once the OSR was completed it became increasingly difficult to find fields that were dry enough to travel. Thankfully the wind and the sun (now it has that little bit more warmth to it) do have a very good drying effect on the soils. It is surprising to see the ground left for spring crops changing colour so quickly in just a day. Unfortunately, this is only really skin deep and not enough just yet to allow for much other than hope! At the same time, the colder weather has held crops back, so although we have not managed to do as much as we would have liked up to now, at least the demand for nitrogen is currently still relatively low.

Pigeons have hit the OSR hard in places, meaning there is very little leaf left in some fields and although it has looked like it’s wanted to get going for the last couple of weeks, a combination of the return to colder conditions and continuous grazing has meant it has not really had the opportunity to do so. The winter has probably been quite beneficial from a disease point of view and this is evident from the Light Leaf spot samples that were carried out recently. As little disease was visible, tissue samples were sent off for analysis through the Bayer Spot check earlier in the month, which has pleasingly shown very low disease levels in most blocks. There is some variation from 0 up to 17% infection. I thought it would be interesting to graph this up against the variety resistance rating, and unsurprisingly there is a very strong correlation, showing the stronger varietal resistance, the lower the infection levels.

Fields have been particularly wet just recently, but thankfully it is only really since the start of the year that this has been the case. As a result, most crops established well in the kind October and were able to get a good root system established before it turned wet. The implication of this is that they have not actually faired as badly this winter as they might have otherwise done. We have not had too many situations where parts of fields have been completely submerged for long periods.

The cold start to the season is not a great way to kick on from the wet conditions, and with some forecasts suggesting it may stay relatively cold for a number of weeks yet, it could make managing these crops that little bit more difficult. Some of the winter wheat and barley have already not enjoyed the large temperature fluctuations we have seen so far this spring; and the spring crops will not be able to race out of the ground as quickly as hoped if it takes too long for soil temperatures to warm up sufficiently.

The main spring crop will again be spring barley this season, with its well documented benefits for blackgrass, but also the better potential for a premium. Last year we were possibly a little too reserved with the levels of nitrogen applied, so I am hoping to take the lessons learnt over the past two seasons, to tweak it for this year.

Harvest planning started pre-Christmas for us as we looked to analyse the information from telematics to see if there are areas where we can make improvements. This highlighted some clear areas to focus on, which have formed the basis for many discussions since. Based on this, we are now starting to develop a plan for this year.