20 February 1998

Crop walking keeps on top of disease control

In the sixth of our articles

profiling this years farmers

weekly barometer farmers,

we visit the south-west.

John Burns reports from

South Devon

DESPITE the current gloom the arable farming industry will adapt to the new economic order, reckons south-west barometer farmer Stewart Hayllor.

"I dont expect to see wholesale restructuring of land ownership. Instead, farms like ours will take on more contract work for smaller farms. The medium term will be a time of opportunity for those with the necessary skills, enterprise and equipment," says Mr Hayllor of Gullaford Farm, Landscove, south Devon.

He is the arable specialist in a family partnership which includes his parents and brother Andrew, who is responsible for the 140-cow dairy herd based at the adjacent Blackler Barton farm.

Roughly half the farm is arable, the rest is rotational grassland and steep permanent pasture.

The arable policy is based on sound rotational husbandry, using well-maintained modern equipment with the capacity to ensure accuracy and timeliness.

Machinery costs are kept down by doing contract work on another 100ha (250 acres). In some cases the complete job is done, in others it is just drilling, spraying and combining. Other spraying-only contract work is also taken on.

Mr Hayllor does most of the machinery maintenance himself. Machinery work for the dairy herd also helps spread costs.

Although a competent crop walker himself, Mr Hayllor also uses the services of ADAS arable consultant Bill Butler. During the active growth season the contracts monthly ADAS inspections may not be sufficiently frequent to keep on top of disease developments. At those times Mr Hayllor walks all crops at least weekly and calls Mr Butler in if necessary outside his normal routine.

The arable land is grades 2 and 3, and described as a mainly sandy clay loam. Rainfall averages 1010mm (44in).

Typical yields are 8.2t/ha (3.25t/acre) for winter wheat, 6.9t/ha (2.75t/acre) for winter barley and 3.75t/ha (1.5t/acre) for winter oilseed rape. But yields slipped during last years tricky harvest to 7t/ha for wheat and 6.5t/ha for barley.

Variety choices for this year are Brigadier and Soissons winter wheat, Muscat and Hanna barley, Lizard oilseed rape and Barbara linseed. Some of the wheat and most of the barley are fed to livestock on the farm. Malting barley was tried in the past, but proved not to be worthwhile.

P and K are bought as straights. This year it is mono-ammonium phosphate and muriate of potash. Every field is soil tested every year and any P or K put on in the spring. Liming to keep pH at 6.5 or better is done in the autumn.

All fields are ploughed. Non-inversion tillage has been considered, but a plough is needed for maize stubbles and grassland, and a conventional drill is needed for some of the contract work. To avoid too much investment in machinery the plough remains king.

Heavy disease pressure is usual, the main threats being Septoria tritici, mildew, rhynchosporium and barley yellow dwarf virus. BYDV control is based on delaying barley drilling until late September or early October and then using a routine aphicide.

Wheats get a routine half-rate fungicide at GS 32 to keep them clean until it is clearer which diseases are the greatest threat so fungicides can be tailored accordingly.

Gullaford Farm has a grain cleaner and drier and storage for all the grain. The Hayllors have applied for membership of the Assured Combinable Crops scheme. Although much of the grain produced is used on the farm, membership is seen as a benefit. Whats more most aspects of the farm are up to scratch, so little work is anticipated in order to comply.

Grain sales are handled through the Tamar Grain co-op which uses West Country Grain co-op to market its crops. The Hayllors opt for the long pool payment system, which gives regular instalments adding up at the end of the grain year to the average achieved for the pool, regardless of when the crop is sold.

The Hayllors are not standing still on their own farm. In conjunction with other local farmers, they are embarking on an organic vegetable enterprise involving 16ha (40 acres) of vegetables and a similar area of fertility-building grass/red clover ley. Half the area is already one year into the conversion period.

Combined with the dairy herd expanding from 140 to 170 cows that is likely to mean an extra job on the farm. One tractor driver and a dairyman are already employed. &#42

Regular field-walking ensures inputs are well targeted and go on just when they need to, says SW barometer farmer Stewart Hayllor of Landscove, south Devon. Cattle mature applied to maize ground boosts organic matter levels.


&#8226 Farm size: 275ha (680 acres).

&#8226 Half arable.

&#8226 Sandy clay loam soil.

&#8226 Cropping:

area ave yield

(ha) (t/ha)

Winter wheat 60 8.2

Winter barley 36 6.9

Winter osr 17 3.75

Spring linseed 20 –

The weighbridge at Gullaford Farm is considered an essential piece of equipment. Every trailer load of grain is weighed and moisture tested on its way into store, and every load out is also accurately weighed – the records are a big help to management decisions. Furthermore, the cost of the weighbridge has been more than recovered through fertiliser cost savings from buying in bulk. The weighbridge allows exactly the right weight of bulk fertiliser to be put in the spreader, says Mr Hayllor.