19 October 2001

Chins up in hard times

I AM not quite sure what the term "seasonal weather" means any more, writes John Lambkin. For the past couple of days the wind has dropped, the clouds have parted and we are enjoying temperatures in the low 20Cs (68Fs), with the sun spreading its warm rays over an otherwise sombre countryside.

When one listens to the news it is difficult not to feel depressed. The one thing I am thankful for is my decision to go into the agriculture industry.

Through all the trials and tribulations of the past 10 years, ranging from BSE to foot-and-mouth, and the general decline in farming fortunes, I hang on to one quotation attributed to the 18th Century French Revolutionary philosopher Rousseau, who said: "Farming is the noblest profession known to man."

Perhaps our industry is at a low point, but we have been there before and here I would prefer to hang on to the lessons of history rather than the gloom-and-doom merchants who try to predict the future.

I feel privileged to be part of an industry that prides itself in producing the best food in the world at affordable prices, regardless of what Margaret Beckett and her team at DEFRA may say.

We need to keep getting the message across that the best way to keep the countryside and protect the environment is through a healthy, viable and profitable agriculture. It is also the most cost effective to the British taxpayer.

Moving on to more practical things and our progress this autumn to date. Both first and a little second wheat are drilled and looking well, all our wheat will be Malacca this year, with the exception of 1ha (2.5 acres) each of Tanker and Option to see how they perform on our soil type and management. We still have wheat to sow after sugar beet, however, but that will not be until early Nov with some probably running into December. Last autumn the wheat after beet was not drilled until January and suffered severe yield penalties as a result.

The early-sown wheat has been sprayed with a residual herbicide to control broad-leaved and grass weeds. We have also applied a 10m-wide bout of Avadex Excel around all the headlands to control any brome or black grass. An insecticide has been applied twice to control BYDV vector aphids which have been a problem with early drilling in the past.

The Fortress oilseed rape is growing well, having been sown in very dry conditions in late August. Half the field was drilled after barley and the rest after wheat. The barley stubble was dressed with pig slurry before discing and this has made a tremendous difference to both the establishment and the growth since the emergence. There was no time to treat the wheat stubble which, even though drilled within hours of the rest, now looks a week behind. Slugs, too, have preferred the rape after wheat, so that has not helped. Mini slug pellets have been spread on the whole field and again in badly affected areas and hopefully we are on top of the situation now.

A graminicide plus insecticide has been applied to the oilseed rape and we shall spray again later in the season when we will also consider a fungicide and cabbage stem flea beetle control.

The sowing of winter barley is the task at the moment, although I hope that by the time this is published we will have finished. The chosen variety is Pearl once again and we have decided to plough, press and power harrow drill sequentially. With hindsight we should have ploughed and power harrowed in August after combining the wheat and sprayed off the volunteers, but we neither had the time, labour nor tractors to spare. Instead, we cultivated and pressed the land but with so much loose straw, poorly chopped and spread by the combine, we were clearly not going to get on well with the drill in the wet conditions of early October, hence the decision to plough.

We know for every day that barley remains unsown after Sept 30 we can expect a 1% drop in yield, so that completion on Oct 13 has cost us an average yield penalty of 0.5t/ha (0.2t/acre).

We have sown 350 seeds/sq m, which has meant a sowing rate of 180kg/ha (160lb/acre) plus, increasing to 210kg (187lb/acre) where seed-beds were awful. They were so bad in places that we have decided to set aside some of the headlands rather than attempt to establish a crop in wet liver.

The annual movement of farmyard manure from the holding pads and old silage clamps on to fields programmed for sugar beet next spring has all but finished. This will be spread by contractors later this month and ploughed under before winter sets in.

There is little doubt in my mind that the ploughing in of farmyard manure and pig slurry over the last 30 years has made the land at Easton Lodge both more fertile and moisture-retentive. I suppose it is just one variation of the golden hoof which was so highly praised by our forebears. &#42

Well-connected…spreading pig slurry and also farmyard manure has made Easton Lodge soils both more fertile and moisture retentive. FYM has been moved from holding pads and old silage clamps on to fields programmed for sugar beet next spring.