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Over the Hedge - Arable Barometer farmers' diary

  • Cereals 2008 gives Andy Barr plenty to think about

    A noisy night in a Travelodge only 10m from the A1 on the way to Cereals 2008 further confirmed to me how lucky I am to live in a rural setting - well rural for Kent anyway.

    At the event I was fascinated by a visit to the Soil Solutions stand. Here they had plots showing how their ‘prescription nutrition' programme of fertilisers and micronutrients could help crops.

    I've recently started down this track and was pleased, and in fact amazed, to see that a plot of wheat with no nitrogen applied at all but given this programme still looked relatively green next to its completely unfertilised and yellow neighbour.

    There were also a number of products in the pipeline such as a phosphite seed treatment and a foliar nitrogen. This ‘not quite there' scenario was echoed at the Speciality Fertilizer Products stand where products to enhance nitrogen and phosphate availability were just around the corner, and at Martin Lishman's display which promoted a brewing system for making a compost ‘tea', the potential great benefits of which were as yet unquantified in the UK.

    I felt as though a barman had just poured me a pint and then walked off leaving it just out of reach behind the bar.

    Amongst a million other things the new Vaderstad Seed Hawk drill really stood out. It looks a very decent tool to me for the direct drilling (sorry Mr Reynolds I mean no-till!), route I would ideally follow.

    The salesman even told me I could pull a 6m version with 150hp, so I was just getting out my cheque-book when he mentioned the retail price of £53,000 - I settled for a coffee and a sit down instead.

    Back on the farm we are making hay, which is a relief after last year when the weather forced production into the middle of harvest, which rather stretched our slimline workforce. Nufol should also go on the milling wheat one evening this week.

    I'm still not convinced the world is going to harvest a massive crop this year - something is bound to go wrong somewhere. Let's just hope it isn't here!

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  • Spring toll evident in North

    Ian Bird's T2 fungicide treatments at Catchgate Farm, Castle Eden near Hartlepool have just been completed on time, despite 64mm (2.5in) of rain in the past week. But the cold wet April has taken a toll on potential yields, he believes.

    "Our first wheats look OK, but the second crops are a bit thin."

    Winter barley, which received the same T2 treatment - "a nice and simple" 1litre/ha each of Gemstone (epoxiconazole + pyraclostrobin) plus Laminator (mancozeb) appears more promising, especially the hybrid Bronx (see picture), reports Mr Bird.


    Bronx barley has come on well since this picture was taken at the end of January.

    His oilseed rape varieties Excalibur and Ovation, both still in full flower and having had a sclerotinia spray only a week ago, are due for a late N dressing in about a week's time. "It'll be the first time we've done it and we'll use about 35 units/acre.

    "There are 220 acres in all, but about 60 look a bit poor. It never really got away in the autumn and simply hasn't caught up."

    Given his experience of the coastal area's weather, T3 wheat fungicide treatments are routine. "We'll definitely be using them. We shan't cut any wheat until the third week in August and that's a long way off."

    After earlier rocketing grain prices the recent slip back has been especially unwelcome, says Mr Bird. "I can't sell at £130/t when potash is £520. All the big price rises do is create cash flow problems. We'd be better off with wheat at £100/t and without the diesel and fertiliser price increases."

  • Blossom midge watch underway in Dorset

    I've just been out again looking for orange blossom midge, writes Peter Snell from North Farm, Horton, Dorset.

    It was a calm, dry and cool evening and there were a few about but nowhere near the one in three threshold our feed wheats require to justify treatment. Anyway I'm reluctant to spray chlorpyrifos, and would need to be convinced by spider webs covered in midges and clouds of them rising from the wheat as you walk through. Meanwhile our Timber is already in flower and now safe.

    We've started spraying T3s, and this year we're using Firefly (fluoxastrobin and prothioconazole) at 0.75 litre/ha. This will be three weeks since the T2s - Gemstone (epoxiconazole and pyraclostrobin) plus extra epoxiconazole (as Opus) at 0.8 and 0.4 litres/ha respectively.

    Around some of the wheat headlands we've used Atlantis (iodosulfuron-methyl-sodium + mesosulfuron-methyl) and Biopower to control grassweeds - with mixed results.

    Tipple spring barley has also recently had its T2 consisting of 0.25 litre/ha of Proline (prothioconazole) and 0.32 litre/ha of Comet 200 (pyraclostrobin).

    We would probably have used Fandango (fluoxastrobin and prothioconazole) again but it was all sold out.

    The Tipple looks good, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it yields and finding out the grain nitrogen, as two-thirds of its N has been supplied from compost. That's particularly topical given current fertiliser prices and availability!

    Meanwhile the new grain store is coming on apace and we've also had one of the farm tracks rejuvenated with 750t of crushed concrete rolled down tightly.


    North Farm's new grain store is coming on well. 

    We've just purchased our third second-hand Howard big baler which we will use for the wheat thatching straw and the new Amazone sprayer and fertiliser spreader should be with us soon for the new season.

    Also, ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulphate for next year is starting to be delivered and sewage sludge is arriving for spreading on first wheat ground post harvest.

    I'm looking forward to attending the Cereals event, where I want to catch up on new varieties, see some old friends, and investigate (well probably purchase) parallel guidance systems.

    Recent rain has left the ground saturated. Until 25 May we had only 7mm in the month and were just beginning to think some moisture would be useful.

    In the next five days we had 78mm and four days later another 25mm!

    The chart below highlights the costly dry April of 2007 and the wet harvest that followed.

  • Western wheat grows apace



    Winter wheats at Chillington Farm, Codsall Wood near Wolverhampton are roaring ahead, writes Andrew Blenkiron.

    The fields of Soissons and Humber are now all in ear and due to receive a T3 of 0.33litres/ha of Prosaro (prothioconazole + tebuconazole) and 1.5l/ha magnesium early this week, probably Tuesday if the weather forecast is correct.

    The decision to apply a T3 would have been a close call if we hadn't had the 50mm of rain in the past week - things were getting a bit dry. After the rain the decision wasn't that difficult given the septoria knocking around in the bottom of the crop and the prevailing weather.

    T3s are planned for the rest of the wheat. Early drilled Claire and Alchemy should be in ear by mid week, with Oakley, being somewhat slower, probably a week behind. Still that should help with combine sequencing!

    The late evening white shirt hunt will be on for the orange blossom midge, just in case!

    Spring barley is due to receive 0.25l/ha of Fandango (fluoxastrobin + prothioconazole) when the awns appear, which should be soon.

    Fodder beet is now up and away and after careful sprayer washing will receive its herbicide.

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  • We need consistent tillage system terms

    From Tony Reynolds, Midlands Barometer: 

    April's Over the Hedge ended with the comment that "everything is bursting to grow - we just need the warmth".

    Early May we got the warmth and the crop response has been wonderful.  Uptake of Nitrogen has given a deep colour to the cereals and the growth rate is such that the delayed T.1. was applied and followed very quickly by the T.2. a very narrow time lapse between.  My own feeling is that the protection offered by T.1. should have lasted longer and we applied T.2. almost as a ritual spray because we always do, this opinion is not reflected by our Agronomist.

    The Wheats have had:-

    Zephyr @ 0.8 per hectare

    Sage @  0.5 per hectare

    Bittersalz @  5kg per hectare


    Fuego Spring Beans:-


    Fury @ 100 mls per hectare

    Aramo @ 1Ltr per hectare

    Manganese @ 2Ltrs per hectare

    Basagran @ 1.5kg per hectare


    Linseed (Abacus):-


    Fury @ 100mls per hectare

    Basagran @ 1kg per hectare

    Flagon 400 @  0.75ltrs per hectare

    We applied 34.5% nitrogen @ 185 kgs per hectare

    The violent storms over the bank holiday have turned the rape fields from yellow to green faster than we would have thought possible, they appear well podded. Now a request, if I may, we practice here a no till system, which is referred to by many misleading descriptions as is "min till" et al.

    Could we please invent a common description of tillage systems so we know which system we are talking about?  May I suggest the following descriptions:-

    All plough based systems:                               Classic Till

    Tillage deeper than 10mm (4in):                        Deep Till

    Tillage less than 10mm (4in):                            Min Till

    Non-inversion:                                                  No Till

    Forget the word "direct" as everyone has their own interpretation, all of which are different.  

  • The sprayer is busy

    We finished T1 sprays just two weeks ago at Chillington, but are already getting going on T2s. Poor old John wanted to go on holiday, let's hope that the wheel doesn't fall off the sprayer again this week or he might have to postpone!

    With septoria being the main risk, especially with the weather threatening to break at the end of the week we are applying 0.2 litres Opus (epoxiconazole), 0.8 litres Firefly (prothioconazole + fluoxastrobin) and 3 litres magnesium to Claire, Humber and Alchemy wheats.  We finished the Humber and some of the Claire today (12 May). The rest is planned to happen before Thursday (when John goes on holiday). 

    I am not bothering with the Opus in the Soissons as it is as clean as the proverbial whistle. We're planning to do the Oakley next week, when I will have to fathom how to use the sprayer again.  I have been amazed by how forward the Humber has been and I expect to see it out in ear next week

    Barley is all out in ear (that reminds me, better get the combine serviced!) and receiving 0.4 litre/ha of Fandango (prothioconazole + fluoxastrobin) and 2 litres of magnesium in the cool of the evening, the last thing that I want to do is scorch it at this late stage!

    Beans are really on the move now, trying to make up for lost time now and receiving some attention in the way of 0.5 litres Amistar (azoxystrobin) and 0.5 litres Bravo (chlorothalonil) and a small amount of insecticide for those dammed beetles.  First time that I have gone to the expense of a strob, let's hope that it rains in June to justify it!

    OSR just past mid flowering and not too many complaints form the local hay fever suffers yet, although I have had to find an alternative field for an old wheezy pony to get it out from the middle of a 200 acre block of pollen.

    Let's hope that those prices pick up again, as I don't really want to have to close my futures option at less than the price that I struck it at and miss out on what has been a £45/tonne upside!!  Good job that I broke into half and keyed into £164/tonne for January 2009.  

  • T1 spraying tricky for Peter Snell


    T0 treatments at North Farm, Horton, Dorset all went on within five days and in good spraying conditions, writes Peter Snell.

    In contrast T1 sprays have been sporadic. The weather has been against us and the difference between the growth stages of Timber and Alchemy wheat is marked, despite similar drilling dates.

    However the 1litre/ha of Tracker (boscalid + epoxiconazole) plus 1litre/ha of Bravo (chlorothalonil) T1 treatment has been applied over half the area, accompanied by the second split of chlormequat and, on some fields, Starane XL (florasulam + fluroxypyr), for cleavers control, and on others Topik (clodinafop-propargyl) + oil for wild oats.

    The mid-flowering spray of 0.5litre/ha Proline (prothioconazole) and 0.2litre/ha Mavrik (tau-fluvalinate), for pod midge, was put on our Castille oilseed rape last Saturday by Julian Lownds who operates a high clearance self-propelled sprayer. Applied in 200litres/ha of water and hardly marking the tramlines, it went on just before the weather turned.

    On Tipple spring barley we split the first fungicide timing - adding 0.25litre/ha Fandango (fluoxastrobin + prothioconazole) with the graminicide and then follow up with a further 0.5l/ha Fandango with the broadleaved weed spray seven days later. It sounds good in theory, but we're now waiting for a spray window for the second application.

    I was disappointed to read that Gordon Brown failed to recognise the importance of British farmers' role in addressing the global food crisis.

    As the world population heads towards 10 billion in the next 50 years, both food production and water availability will be major issues, and the recent seven-point plan by Downing Street doesn't seem to recognise our home grown potential.

    Of course we are a small element in global food production, but along with the opportunities that biofuels could offer, does the government have to hold us back whilst other European farmers benefit?

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  • Fertiliser meeting figues worry Andy Barr



    We're progressing with T1 wheat and mid-flowering oilseed rape sprays, writes Andy Barr from East Lenham Farm near Maidstone, Kent.

    It's finally getting warmer and allowing the spring rape and spring barley to grow, and the latter will hopefully be at T1 before too long.

    BUT, BUT, BUT, BUT.........all I can think about is the meeting I attended the other day run by CropAdvisors buying group regarding next season's fertiliser purchases.

    Of course I was expecting something horrible. But when the prices being mooted were actually up there in black and white next to the consequent predicted spending per hectare, I'm afraid the first words that came to mind were, shall we say, a little too colourful to print here.

    So what are we going to do? Good question. Use cheaper imported material or urea with inherent spreading limits, put less on, grow beans, apply more muck of whatever description, - all of the above?

    Or perhaps something altogether more mysterious?

    For instance, I have tried spraying on rhizobium bacteria, the theory being that they will fix nitrogen and at least replace some of the bagged N requirement.

    The trouble is that it's been a bit of catchy year for applying anything, and to be honest I've received a lot of differing advice on the practicalities - so we'll see.

    At this year's prices it may not pay, but next year?

    On the other hand it may not work at all, and indeed you're probably thinking along the same lines as my father who has promised to consume an item of headgear if it does.

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  • Beetroot sowing delay in Lincs

    Drilling of beetroot, the key crop at Fleet Farm, West Butterwick near Scunthorpe, Lincs started only yesterday - a fortnight later than Chris Moore had hoped. But he remains hopeful that his 80ha (200 acres) of Pablo will achieve their 50t/ha (20t/acre) yield target.

    "It's been so cold," he said. "For vegetables we really need the soil to be warm for 10 days before we go. It's the weather in May and June that really determines how the crop will perform."

    When the crop was belt-lifted it was precision-sown so drilling was quite slow. Now being grown and lifted in beds it is effectively broadcast so sowing is speedier, he explained.

    "We can do about 25 acres a day, so it shouldn't take long. We're two weeks behind, but I don't think it will affect the yield."

    His 20ha (50 acres) of sugar beet sown a fortnight has not yet emerged, despite being from Advantage-treated seed. "This is almost certainly the last year we'll be growing it. We're just too far from the Newark factory, and at only £20/t I'm not losing too much sleep over it."

    The farm's winter cereals look "not too bad", though the wheats are only just emerging from hibernation.

    "The winter barley moves much faster. But at least the disease pressure is a lot less than last year when I was tearing my hair out over brown rust in wheat."

    This year it is the grain market's volatility that is demanding more attention, he said. "I sold some wheat two weeks ago breaking the magic £200/t. Now for the same quality the price is back to £165."

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  • Spring sprung in Scotland

    Spring is here - I think, says Mike Eagers from Trinlaymire Farm, Threemiletown just to the west of Edinburgh.

    Up to now the weather has been showery and in generally cold with a recent east wind.

    All the spring bean (Fuego) and barley (Optic and Oxbridge) sowings are complete, though only recently after very catchy progress between showers.

    Seed-beds are good but still on the cold side.

    Heros spring oilseed rape for industrial use is being sown as I write. I want to ensure rapid emergence in warm temperatures.

    Fertilising on winter crops is well on the way to completion with the last dressing for wheat nearly done.

    Winter barley and rape are wrapped up with 175kg/ha and 190kg/ha of N respectively.

    Spring barley was sown with a 10:15:21 compound.

    Winter barley and forward wheats have received T0 spray applications.

    The barley had Kayak (cyprodinil) against rhyncho and net blotch plus manganese to guard against deficiency problems on our shale land.

    The T1 which is imminent will be based upon Jaunt (fluoxastrobin + prothioconazole + trifloxystrobin).

    Our winter wheat spray programme is categorized into bronze, silver and gold based on yield potential and exhibited varietal disease traits.

    With rising temperatures and intermittent rain septoria is the main concern.

    Wheats in the gold category, ie 9t/ha plus, have received a T0.

    Silver and bronze have not had a T0 due in the main to low disease pressure.

    The T0 was Ceando (metrafenone + epoxyconazole) + manganese + growth regulator.

    The T1 will be the same product at a higher rate topped up with Joules (chlorothalonil) for the septoria pressure.

    Oilseed rape has had a second fungicide for light leaf spot in the form of Monkey (prochloraz + tebuconazole) + boron.

    Spring beans have received a pre-em - Nirvana (imazamox + pendimethalin).

    The long awaited details of the Scotland Rural Development Programme have been published with a substantial menu of options which I am still trolling through with some help from FWAG and SAC.

    Single Payment Scheme time is looming with two of six forms completed.

    The improvements to the grain handling facilities have been agreed by the landlord and, pleasingly, much of the work can be done in-house.

    Costs are rising with the most telling being diesel at 57p/litre. When I arrived in Scotland nearly 10 years ago, it was 9p/litre. This and the prospect of Grangemouth refinery going on strike and the resultant panic-buying in the central region focuses the mind.

    It's a fragile world!

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  • Cold and wet hampers progress in Lincs

    Wet soils mean Clive Patrick (left) and Tony Reynolds' recent spring sowing has required drill modification. 

     "In common with everybody we have the coldest and wettest spring we can remember," writes Tony Reynolds from Thurlby Grange, Thurlby, Lincs.

    "We started drilling spring beans - Fuego - on 9 March. We sowed some 2ha in wet conditions and then sank to our axle and spent the next hour extracting ourselves.

    "We tried again on 9 April, after Clive had designed, welded and fitted modified depth controls for each of the drill openers, and struggled them in, in ground conditions as bad as we have ever attempted in the spring.

    "The first drilled have emerged and are being attacked by slugs. We followed one down the centre of the bean shoot and found it in the centre of the bean itself. So we've now applied slug pellets to all the bean ground.

    "Three swallows arrived on 9 April in the frost looking starved to death. They stayed two days, and whether they went north or returned south we can't tell. 

    "With a drier top to the soil a day later we drilled 9ha of Abacus linseed being observed for an hour by two red kites circling overhead - a first for us here.

    "The cold and frost has put back T1 spraying by 10 days, we think.

    "T0 is almost complete between hail showers.

    "The oilseed rape has been dressed with 250kg/ha of 33.5% nitrogen and the wheats have had 100kg/ha after the first dressing of 50kg. 

    "We've applied Atlantis to 70ha of wheat. Starting on 3 April it took us three days working between the showers.

    "Everything is bursting to grow, we just need warmth."

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  • All behind up North




    Ian Bird (left) and Paul Summerbell have had few chances to get on the land recently.

    Field work at Catchgate Farm, Castle Eden, County Durham has ground to a halt since Easter.

    "I'm really not sure whether it's April or January," said Ian Bird. "We had 4in of snow on 7 April, heavy rain since then and it's been snowing again today. We've had quite a few white frosts too.

    "Last year at this time it was already too dry.

    "The oilseed rape is extending, 2ft tall and in desperate need of its anti-phoma Charisma and growth promoter spray.

    "Our T0 on the wheat, which we always try to get on, is now totally out of the question, so we'll have to use something a lot stronger at T1. But this won't be until mid-May given the speed that crops are growing at the moment."

    Fortunately the wheat appears reasonably disease-free. But he is concerned at his inability to give it a growth regulator. "It's also due for another 70 units/acre of N - it's only had 30."

    The final 300t of last harvest's wheat left the farm at the end of March sold for £183/t. "But the weights aren't back yet so I can't tell what last years final yield was.

    "The moon's due to change in the next few day, so hopefully we should be in for some better weather."

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  • Still wet in the west


    Andrew Blenkiron with some of his green waste compost.  

    Ground conditions at Chillington Farm, Codsall Wood, near Wolverhampton are very wet after 50mm of rain and 125mm of snow over the past two weeks, writes Andrew Blenkiron.

    Very cold winds and night time temperatures well below freezing are holding things back a little. That said I have noticed a real difference in colour of crops. Oilseed rape is massing up ready to burst into colour, the hedgerow buds are bursting, the swallows have arrived and Jennifer has had to cut the lawn!  So I would say that spring has eventually arrived.

    We have made reasonable progress with land work, playing catch up after drying winds with second nitrogen dressings applied to cereals and rape. They have now received 110kg/ha and 70kg/ha of sulphur. Winter barley has had all it's going to get at 150kgN/ha and 90kgS/ha.

    Spring barley drilled in early March is up and away and has received 100kgN/ha.

    Darren has also been busy with the compound fertiliser with cereals and beans receiving 350kg/ha of 0:20:30, and the rape has had MOP to balance soil reserves in accordance with last summer's soil tests. I adopted a spring-based application policy about three years ago.

    John hasn't been quite as fortunate in getting going with the sprayer. He managed to treat the rape with Proline (prothioconazole) about two weeks ago and made a start on about 100ha of wheat T0 sprays at the end of last week with a cocktail of 0.06litre/ha of Boxer (florasulam), 0.5 of Mirage (prochloraz), 0.5 of Bravo (chlorothalonil), 2 of chlormequat and 2 of manganese.

    But then the sprayer wheel came off, quite literally, when the bearing went. Still, he managed to get the Humber finished - a good job because it is romping away and just about at GS31 already.

    Compost is about to be applied at 30t/ha on land for maize, fodder beet and stubble turnip/fodder rape. We'll try to plough this in and have these crops sown by the end of the month.

    Game strips have been topped off and we're waiting for glyphosate to arrive to give them a clean up prior to muck spreading and then ploughing.

    The lapwings have eventually started to nest on the Countryside Stewardship summer fallow and in the winter beans. There are probably about ten nests so far, so let's hope that Jeff, the keeper, can manage to get on top of magpie and rook control. I'm afraid that he can't do anything to stop the badgers taking the eggs though.

    We have 16,000 broadleaved mixed species trees all in and ready to grow, so John and Al can turn their attention to other matters.

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  • N dressing on Dorset OSR finished just in time

    It's all go at North Farm, Horton in Dorset, writes Peter Snell.

    The Castille winter oilseed rape has had all its nitrogen now - just in time as the variety is coming in to flower and the crop height would impede the spread pattern if we had gone later. The total N applied this spring was 220kg/ha.

    The second wheats, which had an early dose of 40kg/ha of N, have now received a further 100kg/ha.

    T0 spraying on the wheat has been stop-start. The 1litre/ha of Cherokee (chlorothalonil + cyproconazole + propiconazole) is accompanied by 2litre/ha of chlormequat and 0.75litre/ha of manganese. The chlormequat would benefit from some more consistent warm weather, and if the wind abated we could continue spraying.

    Planning future fertiliser requirements is giving me some cause for concern.

    When should I enter the market for next season? What will be the availability for the season after that and should we order more now to provide cover?

    Also with P + K prices continuing to rise we will definitely be chopping all our wheat straw again this year (apologies to straw buyers).

    There is speculation that triple super phosphate (TSP) could reach £700/t. So presumably if other growers chop their straw will this push the value of straw up, or will the increase in cereal area counter this?

    Also taking up our time is the new grain store. Steels are up, the concrete floor is shortly to be laid, and the panels and Challow floor have all been delivered this week.

    I'm also busy designing a new website for the farm business and we've just ordered a new Amazone trailed sprayer and Amazone hydraulically driven mounted fertiliser spreader for delivery after harvest.

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  • Wet thwarts progress in Kent

    I don't know if I dare I say it, but with the oilseed rape extending rapidly the pigeon wars seem to be abating slightly, writes Andy Barr from East Lenham Farm, near Maidstone.

    Mind you I spoke recently to someone farming several thousand acres who had 14 gas guns deployed and was using a box of rope bangers every day, so I suppose I've had it easy really.

    The Tipple barley turned a nice shade of grey in freezing winds over the Easter weekend but now looks healthier again, so I'm keen to put the last nitrogen on and am hoping to do the same to the oilseed rape before it's too tall.

    I also have wheat T0 fungicides and nutrients ready to go and even have a little bit of spring rape to put in. But everywhere is very, very wet.

    I am in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (it irks me a little that some of my field boundaries form the NVZ boundary) and carefully worked out my total nitrogen doses using the Planet software.

    You probably won't be surprised to hear that I had concerns over the 180 kg/ha recommended for wheat after oilseed rape on what is potentially my highest yielding bit of land.

    I duly had a couple of soil N tests done predicting that I could use the outcome to justify a higher input. The result? A potential supply of 136 kg/ha of N.

    Why, I'm not sure. Maybe it's the result of sewage sludge applied two years ago, and/or very shallow tillage for seven seasons.

    Although they are of disputed worth, I have had such tests done for several years and have never had such a high result in a continuous arable situation, sludge or no sludge.

    So if I had started off wanting to apply 220 kg/ha of N, and then followed TAG's advice of taking off one kilogram of N from the fertiliser applied for every kilogram the test reads over 100 kg/ha, that would leave a revised recommendation of 184 kg/ha - very close to the Planet figure.

    Perhaps there is something in this RB209 after all!

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  • Longing for weather window in Northern Ireland

    Although the clocks go forward tomorrow morning, spring still seems a long way off for James Wray in Northern Ireland, who urgently needs a lengthy spell of dry weather.

    "We've had a very, very wet winter and the rain is far from over," he said.

    "We really concentrated on the spud digging back in September and October which paid well as the potato harvest was a real success.

    "But the cereals suffered as they were drilled a little later than planned, so we began the winter with more backward crops than we would have wanted."

    As a result his winter cereals at Dungiven remain thin, waterlogged and yellow.

    "We're unable to get on with much needed nitrogen as the land is saturated and rain is forecast with no sign of any let up.

    "In this situation it's hard to plan my crop husbandry. As far as nitrogen goes, fertiliser prices may have increased at a crazy rate but I think that if a crop is worth growing it is worth growing well. And I'd like to think we could reach the maximum yields without holding back on nitrogen because of price.

    "I hope I remember to look back at this posting in August when I'm sitting in the combine wondering why yields are down!"

    His fungicide programme is undecided. "That's because I have no idea how these thin crops will perform considering that it's nearly April.

    "The real problem is going to be the workload - it's all piling up.

    "We've only ploughed 100 acres of the 250 we have for potatoes, and we have 350 acres of spring barley to sow."

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  • Winter still reigns in Scotland

    Cold windy weather devoid of snow has put winter crops at Trinlaymire Farm just to the west of Edinburgh back into a state of near dormancy, according to Mike Eagers.

    "They're looking a bit barren right now," he said earlier today.

    "We're still very much in the depths of winter and it's gone very dry.

    "We managed to get the cultivations going a couple of days ago, and we're just about to start drilling our spring barley - 155 acres of Oxbridge and 80 of Optic. It's still plenty early enough as the soil temperatures are not really there yet. But I'm hoping the weather will change quickly."

    With 121ha (300 acres) of Heros spring rape and 32ha (80 acres) of Fuego spring beans also to sow there was a need to press on, he explained.

    "We have drilled barley in mid March before, and the first week in April is late enough."

    All winter cereals and oilseed rape have received 75kg/ha of nitrogen and 30kg/ha of sulphur, and some of the more forward rape will get a second application before too long at stem extension.

    However cereal fungicide spraying seemed a while off.

    "Agrovista's Jonathan Cahalin has been out and has recommended a T0 of Ceando. But there really isn't enough leaf yet to take it," said Mr Eagers.

    "Last year we had yellow rust about now which was a first. But there's no yellow rust at the moment, probably because of the harsher winter. There's a bit of septoria and some mildew in the Alchemy, but I'm not panicking."

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  • Haircut is main event in East

    Chris Moore's land has dried out well since this picture was taken at the end of January - and he's had a haircut! 

    For Chris Moore, who runs the 486ha (1200 acre) Fleet Farm, at West Butterwick, near Scunthorpe, Lincs with his brother David, the big recent event has been a visit to the barber's.

    "I've finally had my hair cut," he said. "Three years ago, at our local NFU meeting I said I would not cut my hair until I could sell my wheat for £100/t at harvest.

    "I've just sold 250t for £150/t for this harvest. At the same time last year I sold for £90/t which at the time seemed a good price."

    Beetroot sales are strong, he reported. "I've been saying for years that it's an aphrodisiac, but now it appears to be a cure for nearly everything." The latest finding, he said, is that it helps reduce high blood pressure.

    "We've been lucky with the weather. We haven't had too much rain, but thank goodness, given the gales, that we're not on sandland."

    Earlier the dry spell had allowed him to deliver his remaining sugar beet on the last day of the campaign. Two-thirds of his 14ha (43 acres) was still flooded at the start of February. "It didn't yield very well - about 18t/acre, but at least we got.

    "Considering that plenty of our crops were under water only a month or so ago, they don't look too bad.

    "We've applied 125kg/ha or 17:17:17 to all our winter barley and second wheats, and we have disced our 20ha of lapwing over-wintered stubble under Countryside Stewardship. We have to do it between the 1st and 20th of March.

    "We have a shed-full of chemicals to apply - mainly Atlantis and growth regulator which needs to go on soon. At least these strong winds have dried things up."

    In his search for a new tractor he is leaving it largely up to his staff to decide what's required. "I need one of 150-160hp, mainly to do the beetroot hauling to the factory. They tried the JCB and didn't much like. Now we've got tractors all over the place."

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  • Gales halt fieldwork in midlands

    Tony Reynolds with the "business end" of the Bertini drill 

    After a "great week" of direct drilling, with over 80ha (200 acres) of Syncro beans, 65ha (160 acres) of spring barley, Quench and Westminster, and 37ha (92 acres) of Firth spring oats sown, Tony Reynolds and son-in-law Clive Patrick were today waiting for the land to warm before finishing their programme.

    All that remained to go in at Thurlby Grange near Bourne in Lincs and on Wheathill Farms at Burton Lazars near Melton Mowbray, Leics are 36ha (90 acres) of SW Oban spring rape and 80ha (200 acres) of Abacus linseed.

    "It's still a bit too cold, so we'll be looking towards the end of the month for them," said Mr Reynolds.

    February was relatively dry, with only 26mm of rain, he noted. "But it was still very moist down at bean drilling depth and we had a bit of trouble with soil flow through the drills."

    The John Deere 750A performed well, but the Bertini 22,000 which had proved the better machine in the autumn had struggled a bit, he said.

    "It's probably because we were trying to go a little deeper with the beans."

    This week's gales put paid to any further top-dressing or glyphosate spraying, an essential operation in the farms' direct drilling strategy. But fortunately 75kg/ha of N with sulphur ha already been applied to the oilseed rape. Both fields sown directly into standing stripped straw, including one that had appeared quite thin, now look green and well, he reported.

    An auction of adjoining land earlier this week, for which he was an under-bidder, highlighted the revival in some farming fortunes, he suggested.

    "It was 85 acres in one field - nice land but not fen and without any buildings. It went for £505,000!"

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  • Dry spell sees first N dressings complete in North

    A welcome three-week spell of dry weather at Catchgate Farm, Castle Eden, County Durham has allowed Ian Bird to apply his crops' first nitrogen dressings - 87.5kg/ha (70 units/acre) as ExtraN to the oilseed rape and half that to the winter wheat and barley.

    Recommendation sheets from his agronomists, David Coates of CSC Crop Protection and Frontier's Andrew Roy, have been dropping on his desk "like confetti", he adds.

    "We've got some spraying to do on the oilseed rape for phoma and volunteer barley, and there's Atlantis to go on the wheat for blackgrass. But I'm not too worried as it's still too cold and windy here. March for us is generally a no-go area."

    All the wheat and barley has also received 150kg/ha (120 units/acre) of potash - about a third more than his normal dressing. "We need to keep our indices up, and I bought this lot of muriate quite cheaply - for £200/t. It's over £300 now. So I thought I'd do it all at that rate while I could afford it."

    Most of his winter cereals looked reasonably well set for the season. "But we've suffered a fair bit of rabbit grazing on the wheat - much more than usual. In one 30 acre field we've had about 20 grazed right off."

    His oilseed rape, however, is more worrying with about 25% of the crop, all the new conventional variety Ovation, especially so. "It's touch and go whether it will survive. It went in quite late - in September - and the autumn was pretty wet. But the hybrid Excalibur is OK."

  • Good seed-bed for barley in the west

    Ground conditions drying sufficiently at Chillington Farm, Codsall Wood, near Wolverhampton allowed 20ha (50 acres) of Waggon spring barley to be drilled last week, writes Andrew Blenkiron.

    The seed rate was 175kg/ha and it's now ready to be sprayed pre-em with 0.5litres/ha of Hurricane (diflufenican).

    We had good seed-beds on this light land after 40t/ha of well composted green waste was ploughed in two days before power-harrow combination drilling.

    Darren, the fertiliser spreader driver, was getting itchy fingers, so I let him loose on the oilseed rape early last week with 125kg/ha of 30N:19S.

    We're having a real battle with the pigeons, as it's essential to keep them off now that it is trying to grow. So we have large number of guns hired in to man the barricades!

    Two fields of December-sown Soissons also received the same fertiliser treatment to get them on the move.

    Claire, Alchemy, Humber and Oakley wheats along with the barley will get 250kg/ha of the same fertiliser within the next ten days.

    Cultivating of the Countryside Stewardship summer fallow, more commonly known as the lapwing option has just been competed by Darren as I write, so someone is actually working!

    We have to cultivate the surface 2-6in deep to allow seeds to germinate, creating a site for ground nesting birds over the next couple of months, so all lapwings welcome. This has been our highest margin ‘crop' for the last five years - let's hope that it isn't this time.

    We will need to get on with clearing the game strips, probably the most important crop on the farm after we have applied the fertiliser and finished this winter's tree planting.

    We have 10,000 broadleaved trees to be put in by the in-house team and 6,000 mixed species by contractors this year.

    It's a busy time of year. Let's hope that the weather holds up.

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  • Dorset grain storage upgrade underway

    We finished drilling our Tipple spring barley just over a week ago, writes Peter Snell from North Farm, Horton, near Wimborne.

    It is all safely rolled into near perfect seed-beds, but I must admit that's only been possible because the fields are on the only chalk on the farm.

    A substantial quantity of compost sourced locally was spread before ploughing, and I'm hoping this will nearly satisfy crop's requirement for N, P, K and S. Fortunately, I am told, Tipple stands later applied and larger amounts of nitrogen better than other spring varieties.

    The sprayer has had a little use applying manganese on some deficient Alchemy wheat, and the Amazone fertiliser spreader two weeks ago finished applying 50kg/ha of nitrogen to second wheats and one backward field of Castille oilseed rape.

    With the rest of the oilseed rape and first wheats still to receive their nitrogen and sulphur, I feel I can hold off no longer and the pressure to get round means we'll start this week.

    As I mentioned, when Andrew Blake first profiled the farm in Farmers Weekly (4 Jan), we have been considering improving our grain storage. Well, the deal has been done and the emphasis is well and truly on progressing to meet the harvest deadline.

    Two Challow drying floors will be installed with two twin axial fan units and burners. Another area of the building will simply have a concrete floor for this year with the option to extend the tunnel to provide two further drying floors.

    I've also been busy attending meetings and conferences. Some are more valuable than others, whilst some more enjoyable!

    I very much value our local TAG meetings not only for their independent advice but also for the chance they give to catch up with local farmers and friends. I never fail to learn something and appreciate the experience that others have.

    Today I'm travelling to the Royal Agricultural College for the Farmers Weekly "Futures in your Hands - Young Entrepreneurs Conference", which I hope will prove useful.

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  • Barometer blog re-awakens

    With spring approaching we re-open this diary relaying activities on Farmers Weekly's Barometer farms with a self-penned piece from Andy Barr. He runs the 627ha East Lenham Farm near Maidstone, Kent.

    Bloody pigeons!

    Despite deploying 20 bird scaring devices (of varying technological advancement) on a 65ha block of oilseed rape, a flock of several hundred steadfastly refuses to leave for very long.

    I'm sure it amuses people in nearby houses watching me vainly chasing them around the field, and I'm expecting a call soon about the noisier scarers.

    My frustration was compounded at a TAG meeting when talking to a handful of farmers from Romney Marsh. "Pigeons?" one said. "No, no... I did put a banger out about 10 years ago but I haven't seen any since." Aaaargh!

    Nitrogen has been going on round here for about a month, for which we were firmly rebuked by the TAG agronomist.  We managed to hold off until the last week of February - probably only because we‘ve been drilling spring barley.

    I was very happy with this crop's performance last year and it seems there will be a lot more going in this year, both here and in Europe. Presumably the dry spell will have only fuelled this increase but, of course, it's too dry now.

    I took advice this week about when to apply our remaining Atlantis (iodosulfuron-methyl-sodium + mesosulfuron-methyl) after the delayed emergence of blackgrass last autumn.

    I was told to hold on a while as the soil temperatures are not high enough yet. The trouble is no one has told the wheat that, and it's growing like mad and rapidly hiding the target.... Hmmm!

    My Entry Level Stewardship agreement started before the cut off date for the latest EU revisions, but I am having to do another one anyway as the livestock enterprises go organic. Natural England has agreed that my old ELS and Countryside Stewardship schemes can be converted into one new Organic Entry Level Stewardship (incorporating some ELS) scheme. But unfortunately the schedule from our organic certification body doesn't match the details on my OELS application forms yet. Deep calming breaths required.

    What about next year? Prices are undeniably healthy but nitrogen, P & K, seed and diesel prices also look rather plump. Any ideas?

    Amongst other things I've been looking at various direct drilling methods, from discs to tines and deeper tines, but have yet to come to any firm conclusions on what might be best for our soil and economic conditions.

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  • Thank you to all our Barometer farmers for their contributions this autumn

    Over the Hedge will return in the spring, when there will be new Barometer farmer faces in all regions bar Northern Ireland.

  • Scottish set-aside ploughing hiccup

    We close this regular peep at what Farmers Weekly's Barometer farmers have been getting up to this autumn with a brief report from Scotland.

    John Hutcheson has been spraying his Catana, NK Bravour and Mendel oilseed rape at Leckerstone Farm, Dunfermline against light leaf spot with 0.5litres/ha of Proline (prothioconazole) and stem weevil with 50ml/ha of Hallmark (lambda-cyhalothrin).

    "We left out the fungicide on the Catana because of its light leaf spot resistance, but wet weather means we're still only about half way through."

    The other main tasks have been hedge-cutting and ploughing the 30ha (75 acres) of set-aside for spring cropping. But the latter hasn't been all plain sailing, again because of the conditions.

    "Our Fendt 920, with its six-furrow Kverneland plough got completely sunk to the top of the rear wheel on one side," said Mr Hutcheson. "And another field was only ploughable with our old four-furrow lightweight Lemken plough, which is worth no more than £200, pulled by the smaller John Deere 6910. And we've still got about 30 acres to do.

    "The experience reminds me why these fields were in set-aside in the first place.

    "We're still monitoring grain temperatures in store and cooling accordingly."

    Mr Hutcheson also recently attended the relatively new half-day Scottish Quality Cereals sprayer operator course with two of his operators. Introduced about a year ago it replaced the NRoSO points-based system for SQC members, he explained.

    "But these courses do attract 10 NRoSO points each, so they can still be used to remain within the NRoSO scheme."

    Over the Hedge will return in the spring, when there will be new Barometer farmer faces in all regions bar Northern Ireland.

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