24 August 2001

BLOCK-CROPPINGS BIG BENEFITS

By Andrew Blake

RATIONALISING the rotation to bring crops into blocks can boost efficiency with few downsides, say a Notts-based grower and his crop consultant.

Key advantage is improved timeliness of operations. "Having, say, five fields of oilseed rape adjacent instead of spread about the farm saves a lot of otherwise wasted travelling time throughout the year," says ADAS principal consultant Andrew Wells.

"From the spraying point of view, especially now that tanks are getting bigger, you dont want to be chasing about doing small areas here, there and everywhere."

Benefits are greatest on large arable farms, simplifying the management of an increased area. Growing only one crop each season on off-lying units has much going for it.

"A simple system which works is less prone to mistakes and errors. It also makes the task of an agronomist easier, which ought to reduce costs.

"Farms which have cropping maps that look as though someone has spilled a packet of Smarties all over them can take much longer to inspect."

Rotational benefits need not be lost. "Provided you can make the blocks of similar size you can still run a rotation."

Achieving the best block-cropped set-up almost inevitably involves breaking a few rules in the first year. "You might have to grow rape after peas or wheat after barley to get the block into one crop. The challenge is to work out the optimum way to get there."

Set-aside offers a good opportunity for adjusting, he adds. Farms with root crops are less likely to be able to take full advantage due to irrigation and soil-borne constraints, he notes.

However, for combinable crop units there are few drawbacks. A simpler system can cut overtime and even allow labour to be shed.

"But on the whole it allows people to take on more land with their existing staff because it makes them more efficient." &#42

BLOCK CROPPING

&#8226 Simpler management.

&#8226 Logistical savings.

&#8226 Rotations retained.

&#8226 Risks minimal.