Despite this season’s extraordinary growing conditions, most Farmers Weekly‘s Barometer farmers are wary of making any sweeping changes to their autumn cropping plans. Andrew Blake reports
Of our seven regional representatives with autumn seed choices to make, only Jonathan Fenwick intends to make drastic changes to his autumn drilling strategy.
“As this is the third spring drought in a row, I feel I should make a concerted effort to have more autumn crops as they stand it better. I’ll sow as much oilseed rape as possible before my cut-off date of around 15 September and intend to sow more hybrid varieties.”
Peter Sands’ sole cropping change will be to grow fewer winter oats. “They’ve suffered in the dry weather this year and last,” he explains.
David Hall also expects to drop oats. “It’s not as good a break as oilseed rape.”
Martin Hamilton, whose main cereal is spring barley, may consider re-introducing winter wheat after some of his key crop – potatoes. “Here in Northern Ireland drought is a very rare commodity.
“We’d probably check on the Recommended List, but more importantly we’d seek advice from those with experience, for example Farmer Focus writer Allan Chambers.”
In all other areas the underlying message is that crop and variety choices will stay much the same unless local trials and/or individual harvest results highlight opportunities too good to be ignored.
Andrew Pendry foresees no change. “Our system works very well in a normal season and next year’s spring could be really wet.”
Edd Banks adds that spring drought simply reinforces the need for good autumn establishment. “So it will affect our cultivation methods and timing,” he says. “We need to get finer seed-beds and to reduce the number of fields sown late which we did to get on top of blackgrass.”
Bottom line economics, heavily influenced by yield, is clearly the main decision driver for every Barometer farmer, but rotation considerations are well to the fore – for example, with Mr Pendry striving to extend oilseed rape cropping to one year in five, and Steve Lee who says: “All our rotations are geared to getting back into winter wheat.”
For Stuart Davidson disease resistance, particularly to clubroot, early maturity and seed costs are all important factors, and as Mr Fenwick points out, workloads must always be borne in mind.
Having wheats with reasonable sprouting resistance and a good spread of ripening dates to ease combining pressure is important, adds Mr Sands.
When it comes to oilseed rape varieties, Mr Banks is dropping Castille in favour of higher yielding DK Cabernet and, for the first time, Sesame. “We’ve had a couple of poor years with Castille, so we’re moving on.”
DK Cabernet did well for Mr Sands last year. “But it was still flowering in June this year and suffered pod abortion.” So this year’s main choices – Cubic, DK Camelot, Fashion, and Sesame, all with complementary attributes – will be joined by hybrid Rhino in its place. “It’s early to ripen with good yield.” He will also grow high erucic variety Marcant.
Joining Mr Davidson’s Cracker and Temple could be Artoga. “It looks a solid variety and is supposed to suffer less pod shatter.” He might also try dwarf variety PR45D05 on the grounds that it should be easier to harvest and less prone to combining losses. Ousted will be Emerson, which lacked vigour last autumn, and Excalibur.
Mr Hall, however, will stick with Excalibur, along with Catana, for his heavier and lighter land, respectively. The former has good spring vigour and the latter covers the ground well in the autumn to help counter pigeon attacks, he explains.
Mr Pendry’s oilseed rape area will be split 50:50 between hybrids PR46W21 and Flash, but Mr Lee will wait to assess harvest results before deciding whether to replace any of his conventional trio which includes Alienor and mostly Es-Astrid.
“I work closely with my agronomist, Neil Potts. Astrid’s rather old, but it seems to suit us, and we usually wait until we’ve put the combine in before choosing. We have time because we don’t usually drill until the second week of September.”
Given his intention to sow more hybrids, Mr Fenwick likes the look of DK Expower and Compass. “Obviously they’re very expensive in terms of seed and input costs, but they certainly look better than the open-pollinators. We’ll wait for the weighbridge results before deciding.”
This year he has eight varieties of winter wheat and one of winter barley, but for next season’s sowings he says the jury is still out. “As a seed grower I need to listen to what the customers want, as well a retaining the best of my seed varieties for another year.
“The interesting thing this year will be seeing which second wheats perform best after the very wet planting was followed by drought. We should also see whether those expensive seed treatments recommended by the agronomist pay dividends.”
Alongside winter barleys Volume and Sequel, Mr Davidson and his Agrovista agronomist Lewis McKerrow intend trying newcomer Escadre. “It’s a possible replacement for Sequel,” says Mr Davidson. It’s in a similar maturity class, but higher yielding – the seed cost should be lower than for hybrids and we can home-save. I’m also keen to see SY Bamboo in trials this year.”
Mr Sands believes he will stay with Volume for its yield and earliness, and Mr Hall is unlikely to switch from Cassia and Carat, the latter particularly for its early ripening. “It helps to get the combine going early,” he explains.
For his first wheats, Mr Banks says he is happy to stay with what he acknowledges is an older variety – Alchemy. “It’s a good all-rounder with opportunities to gain premiums.” It will be joined by higher yielding Oakley.
His second wheats will be Cordiale, which besides having good milling prospects can be drilled late. “It helps us in our battle against blackgrass,” he explains.
Cordiale will also account for half of Mr Hall’s wheat area, mainly on his lighter land, the balance being mostly in Claire for the heavier fields.
“We’re sticking with varieties we know. The beauty of Claire is that we can sow it in the first week of September, and it’s quite cheap to grow. I might also try Grafton for its earliness to harvest.”
Grafton is also favoured by Mr Sands. “It’s a good early driller, stands well and is early to harvest.” Its companions will include Humber, Diego and newcomer Relay. “Humber’s also a good early driller, suits our lighter land and has good sprouting resistance.” Diego also resists sprouting and yields well in the second wheat slot, he says.
“Relay’s done well in the west and we’re going to try it.” Oakley may be dropped because of its yellow rust problems.
Provided Gallant does well it will account for half Mr Pendry’s wheat, the rest being either Cordiale or Kingdom. “I’ve grown some Group 3 Invicta this year. It looks well, but I’ve a feeling we should be growing only milling wheats.
“We’re always looking at new varieties – Gallant and Kingdom being the latest that look good. New varieties are always improving, but we try only a small bit in their first year. Then, if they’re successful, we run with them in a big way.”
Mr Lee anticipates increasing his third season area of Lear, despite its absence from the Recommended List. It appears to do well in all situations except for early sowings, yielding well even when sown as late as early March, he explains.
“I’ve also got some Sahara in the ground, but will definitely reduce its area.” Other likely choices include Scout for early drilling, Einstein for his drier land, and Deben.
“I won’t be having anything new unless it really pokes me in the eye in trials.”
Ensus shutdown will have little impact on Barometer farms
Temporary closure of the Ensus biofuel plant will have relatively little impact on our Barometer farms, say those closest to the Teesside facility.
“It just proves that money talks,” says Mr Fenwick, who finds it ironic that work on another east Yorkshire plant stopped, apparently because of a dispute between the owners and building contractors, just when the wheat price rose.
Mr Hall believes some of his Claire that didn’t reach specification might have gone to the Ensus plant via Tyne Grain. “It would be nice to see the plant opened again, but the way the price is at the moment there will still be plenty of markets.”