Patience will be the key to successfully establish winter crops this autumn without exacerbating soil problems, says Steve Townsend, an independent tillage consultant.

“It is vital growers appreciate just how much damage has been inflicted on the soil by wet-weather combining and haulage and the extent this will be made worse by trying to prepare seed-beds with heavy tillage kit before the ground can stand it,” he says.

“There is particular danger if your cultivation system involves tilling to depths of more than three or four inches. It leaves looser soils with more air incorporated into them, so ruts and compaction will be much deeper and more problematic.”

In contrast, the firmer, better-structured soils left by shallow tillage will be suffering compaction only in their upper layers, he says. “This can be easily dealt with in your primary cultivations.”

Cultivations tractor

Wait for the soil to be dry enough to take heavy cultivation equipment before ploughing,
says independent tillage consultant Steve Townsend

Whatever you do, don’t subsoil, Mr Townsend stresses. “It only adds to your problems by introducing more air into the deeper soil layers, making them more vulnerable to future damage as well as impairing drainage by smearing.

“Instead. fill the ruts in and, just like a plough pan, look to rectify the problem next autumn when conditions are better.”

If you are ploughing or working deeply with a big set of discs, wait until the soil is dry enough to take heavy equipment, he adds. Confining cultivation strictly to dry soil will minimise damage. “Also remember, if you’re ploughing, that nice shiny tops to the turned-over furrow is a sure sign you’ve got bad smearing at the base.”

For growers min-tilling, he recommends using heavy-duty tines with narrow tips over discs to minimise smearing and disruptive balling-up with trash.

Cultivations tractor

Mr Townsend advises against setting up a stale seed-bed for weed control. Instead, spray off green stubbles before cultivating. “You’ll want to get drilling as soon as you can and the last thing you want to be doing is adding to your in-crop weed control challenge by transplanting lots of weed and volunteer seedlings with your cultivator.”

Cultivating and drilling on the same day will also help prevent further problems from rainfall on freshly cultivated, unconsolidated ground, he adds.

Successfully establishing crops this autumn will be a challenge for many, he says. “The key will be patience and having sufficient capacity and flexibility in your system to go like hell when conditions permit, but hold off when they don’t.

“But I’m confident most people should be able to get much, if not all, their planned cereal area in if we get a relatively open autumn.”