16 August 2002

Additional costs easily recouped

BOB Slater, manager of Somerford House Farms, near Stafford, has been a successful August driller for three years on the light to medium sandy loams.

He started with 15ha (37 acres) and has increased the area to 80ha (198 acres), about one-third of his total wheat.

The August-sown crop follows desiccated oilseed rape or sprayed off set-aside or leys. He always had one man available for subsoiling and seed-bed preparation, and for August drilling the latter is easier with his introduction of minimum tillage.

"We are fortunate in not having blackgrass, but we do have a bit of sterile brome on some headlands," says Mr Slater. "Applying a half-boom spray of Monitor controls this, if necessary."

August seed-beds are prepared with a single 12kph pass with a 4m Knoche cultivator/ crumbler, although two passes may be needed after oilseed rape to achieve adequate burial of chopped straw.

The cultivator is set as deeply as necessary to get a good tilth, verging on that prepared for oilseed rape.

The cultivator is followed as closely as possible with a 4m Lely Polymatt/Roterra drill combination and then an 8m Cambridge roll as a separate operation.

So far he has used only Claire, Sibutol Secur-dressed, for August drilling, starting in mid-August at 80 seeds/sq m. At about £450/t the seed is pricey, he admits. But 40kg/ha costs only £18/ha compared with £37 for Malacca, with a cheaper dressing, drilled in October at 140kg/ha.

"Secur is not recommended at such low seed rates for BYDV control, but there is no doubt that it does control aphids and also helps against slugs. But slugs are not much of a problem in August because the crop is up and away so quickly and it is warmer on the soil surface than they like."

Last year he finished drilling in mid-October. "In the past the job often staggered on into November."

The extra input cost of August wheat, mainly for fungicides, is about £30/ha (£12/acre). That is easily recouped by its high average yield which at just under 10t/ha is 2.5t above the farms previous average for the same fields. &#42