14 April 2000

Early spring but stop-go

SPRING work started early this year, but it has been a stop-go affair since spreading muriate of potash to 37.51ha (93 acres) in the first week of February.

January had been the driest at Wittering since records began in 1955 and allowed us access to the land without penalty.

Keeping the Kuhn Aero fertiliser spreader moving we transferred into oilseed rape on Feb 3 to apply urea at 84kg N/ha (67 units/acre) to some backward crop and 57kg N/ha (45 units/acre) as the first of three dressings on the rest.

Winter barley

The Maris Otter winter barley received the first of two applications of urea on Feb 11 applied at 61kg N/ha (49 units/acre).

That was closely followed by a dose of flusilazole to control net blotch and ryhnchosporium.

The rolls were also active in February, 19.83ha (49 acres) of late-sown wheat after sugar beet and 25.6ha (63 acres) of winter barley were Cambridge rolled. The perennial ryegrass and areas of permanent pasture were harrowed and rolled also, but with a heavy Kidd flat roll.

Large quantities of pig slurry have subsequently been applied to the 12ha (30 acres) of ryegrass, which for a second year crop looks remarkably well.

By Mar 10, early September-drilled wheats were ready for a first application of chlormequat tank mixed with cyproconazole to control brown rust – it really must have been dry!

Sandwich year student Andrew Howie followed close on the heels of the sprayer applying liquid ammonium sulphate to the wheat with the Chafer Pathfinder trailed machine now used solely as a liquid fertiliser applicator. The 8% nitrogen solution was spread using dual port stream jets at 970 litres/ha to give 87kg N/ha (70 units/acre) as a first dressing. A second application of urea was applied in mid-March to the oilseed rape topping up the spring application so far to 164kg N/ha (131 units/acre). The second and last dose was also applied to the malting winter barley to total 106kg N/ha (85 units/acre).

With a considerably larger area of seed vining peas to sow this spring we decided to try our luck on Mar 14 but without success.

The land was wet underneath the surface and when sowing was attempted with the power harrow/drill combination it left a wet cloddy seed-bed with the peas barely covered. We turned our back on the peas and pursued the spraying option with plenty to keep us busy.

The oilseed rape was sprayed with a plant growth regulator for both lodging control and manipulation and the winter barley with chlormequat and a fungicide to control mildew. The two fields programmed for sugar beet were sprayed with glyphosate before any attempt was made to prepare a seed-bed.

Dual wheels

That done we fitted dual wheels and dropped the tyre pressures on the Fendt 395 and worked down the first field for sugar beet with a single pass of a pressure harrow. Our aged six-row Becker precision drill made a good job of the 8.18ha (28 acres) of Jackpot and was completed by lunchtime on Mar 19.

The second field of 11.38ha (28 acres) was drilled with Ariana by the following Wednesday.

By Mar 24, the bulk of the wheat was ready for a second dose of growth regulator, which was done in ideal conditions, the ammonium sulphate applied 12 days previously had caused some scorching, which would have been a concern if the interval had been any less.

Without fear of scorch, the sugar beet was dressed with liquid ammonium sulphate, 10 days after drilling and well before emergence, at 50kg N/ha (40 units/acre). The remaining nitrogen will be applied in urea form at the two-leaf stage.

Having allowed 12 days to lapse since attempting to sow the seed vining peas, we took the bull by the horns and opened up the land with a 4m Kongskilde Vibro Flex cultivator. The soil had dried considerably underneath, but we were still unable to prepare a seed-bed in one pass using the power harrow/drill combination. We needed more depth, which could only be achieved with the Vibro Flex or a drill capable of more penetration than ours.

A total of 22.25ha (55 acres) was prepared in this way leaving an interval of 3-4 days between cultivating and drilling during which time we had about 10mm (0.4in) of rain and sunshine. This made all the difference and by Mar 31 we had drilled and rolled 60% of the area contracted.

That just left 15.26ha (37 acres) which had been pressure harrowed and left in mid-March. It was certainly not advisable to rip into the stickier land and our drill was incapable of sowing into the seed-bed at the required depth.

A neighbour has come to our aid and made a superb job of sowing direct into the levelled surface with a 4m Vaderstad drill. We were most impressed but a little contrite none the less to have admitted defeat. When we were all up to our necks in work and both labour and machinery had been screwed down tight it is often difficult to take on extra responsibilities.

Dry weather prepared the way for sowing vining peas for seed at Easton Lodge. Wet soil had defeated attempts to drill 12 days earlier.