Arable farm management company Velcourt is using fallowing to control troublesome blackgrass and brome, and stretch tight wheat-oilseed rape rotations.
It has implemented a fallow year to create a four-year rotation of wheat-rape-wheat-fallow to control grassweeds and cut disease build-up in oilseed rape on some land.
Velcourt’s Midlands area manager Brian Redrup argues that fallowing is a viable alternative to preserve good soil structure and allow an early entry for the next crop.
Drilling winter wheat had now been abandoned to focus on spring cropping where possible, or leave the land fallow to “get their house in order” for next year, he says.
“This year, where crops have failed on heavy land, there are limited options. With soil structure and condition already poor, it will make establishing a spring crop in good conditions extremely difficult,” explains Mr Redrup.
He is currently assessing his winter crops for their ability to make it through to harvest, but he admits that abandoning a crop and fallowing the land can be a tough decision to make.
“It can be very difficult, particularly where growers have overheads, such as labour and machinery sat in the shed. Fallowing may save a little on fuel and overtime, but you could be taking a considerable financial hit,” he adds.
Velcourt uses contractors in some situations therefore a fallow can work well by cutting costs sharply, and so the effect on profit margins is softened.
However, Mr Redrup believes considerable financial analysis is required to know what the likely margin for each hectare will be.
“When you know what the potential cost of each option is, you can make a more informed decision based on the figures,” he adds.
Being forced into a fallow may be a positive for some growers where grassweeds are prevalent – Velcourt has achieved great success at reducing populations where fallowing has been used in the rotation.
“I would advise growers not to burn off with glyphosate too early, though,” says Mr Redrup.
“Depending on the level of weed infestation, we would typically spray in May or June and then cultivate early, whether that is plough or minimum tillage, through July.”
When considering using a green cover crop this spring, Mr Redrup urges caution, as you still have to cultivate and create a seed-bed in most cases and will potentially cause similar damage to soil structure as when establishing a spring crop.
“Cover crops are a genuine option, but our general practice is to leave stubbles for natural regeneration,” says Mr Redrup.