March 2021

I have grown increasingly frustrated with all the reports of early starts to spring drilling from round other parts of the country as conditions dried up at the end of February. Unfortunately, just as our ground was beginning to dry out and we were starting to think about the prospect of gearing up to make a start on some spring oats, we had 20mm of rain overnight which put paid to that idea pretty quickly. The wet soils have brought us right back to square one, and regular top ups since mean soils have rarely been anything but fully saturated. As a result, work is starting to back up and will make for a very busy month when conditions improve, to try to ensure operations are still carried out in good time.

This spring we have approximately 500ha to establish, which although is closer to average following last year’s significant increase in area, it is higher than I had intended, had the autumn not been as wet as it turned out to be. Although I am confident in focussing on soil conditions, rather than calendar dates, I would of course wish this was not an issue, with good conditions arriving early. It is often the case that we are not able to make a start on spring drilling until April, but I try to stay optimistic!

First nitrogen dressings on cereals went on earlier in the month as a mixture of both solid and liquid fertiliser as we look to use up the stock created by last year’s cropping changes before moving across to fully liquid next year. As anticipated, the spreader certainly has the edge on work rates, however with such a large proportion of headlands as a result of small field sizes, the accuracy of liquid fertiliser on field edges should be a major benefit.  We also have some MOP to apply this spring, which as a maintenance dressing as indices are largely at the target of 2-, it is less time critical, so this may have to wait until other priorities are completed.

Yellow rust seems to be the biggest threat in wheat crops currently. There was some kicking around in the Skyfall before the end of last year, but the cold conditions earlier in 2021 had put a temporary stop to its development. The return to warmer weather has meant it has reared its head again. It is also now visible in some Gleam & Skyscraper, but I’m yet to find it in the Firefly and Extase that others have reported. An early T0 for the fields where it is currently active looks like it’s on the cards, along with a herbicide to clear up some volunteer oats and canary seed.

This winter we have been carrying out a major Tilly Testing scheme on all trailers and braked trailed implements. Over the last three years we have carried out brake efficiency testing on trailers, which has been an interesting exercise, and can highlight some big variability between trailers from the same manufacturer, even new ones. We have decided to go down the route of the Tilly Test this time round as the brake efficiency testing only measures the efficiency of braking on the day the test is carried out, and is not a thorough examination of the quality of the trailers and their brakes. As an effective MOT for trailers, this is something the Tilly Test is designed to do, however it does not carry out a measurement of the efficacy of braking after the brakes have been fully examined. I believe a combination of the two would be the most effective means of assessing trailers, however this would currently be quite an expensive exercise.

Whilst spring drilling has taken a back seat to wait for ground conditions to improve, we have been busy topping some of the stewardship plots, ahead of turning them round for drilling later in the year.