7 September 2001

Establishment – its all done by min-till

The East of England Agricultural Societys biennial Cultivations event takes place on Wed,

Sept 19, at Bedfordia Farming, Milton Earnest, north of Bedford. Over the following four

pages we preview this key autumn event, starting here with a profile of the host farms establishment strategy by Andrew Swallow. Edited by Charles Abel

ALL combinable crops are established by minimum tillage at Bedfordia Farming. But as arable manager Bob Green points out, that can mean anything from direct drilling to ploughing, depending on what is the minimum necessary to establish the crop properly.

Increasingly difficult blackgrass on the farm means an integrated approach to control is a must. "This is one area where our cultivation strategy has changed and improved since we last hosted the event. Our emphasis on weed control is even greater now, because of the blackgrass resistance risk. We use spring break crops, rotational ploughing, stale seedbeds and delayed drilling as part of our strategy."

Work is carefully scheduled so the worst blackgrass fields are given the longest possible germination window, according to their position within the rotation.

"We cultivate these fields first and leave them to last to spray off and drill. It may only make three or four days difference at either end of working the block, but add that together and youve got an extra week for the weeds to chit on your worst fields."

Oilseed rape is established by direct drilling, wherever possible. Last year over two-thirds of the crop was direct drilled, the remainder disced, levelled, pressed and drilled conventionally. There were no yield differences at harvest.

"This year none has been direct-drilled, because the soil was wet at harvest and the combines caused some shallow compaction." Instead discs or a flat-lift have been used, depending on the depth of compaction, followed by a light power harrow plus press pass. "The power-harrow is used as a powered levelling board."

Sting Eco (glyphosate) went on the day before drilling to destroy the strong flush of barley volunteers and early blackgrass. Then 2 litres/ha of trifluralin was applied within 30 minutes of the drill, so drilling incorporated it. Rolling and slug pelleting completed the job.

Wheat drilling will start Sep 10 following oilseed rape, giving up to a seven week window for blackgrass and volunteers to chit.

While the theory is that rapeseed is best left on the surface to break dormancy, that is not always practical, says Mr Green.

"Ideally we will leave it one or two weeks, but if that is the only land available for primary cultivations we cant afford to be doing nothing." Here Simba 3/4C discs + 2B discs have been used in tandem, followed, when hazed off, by the power-harrow and press levelling operation on an angle.

The preceding oilseed rape is combined at an angle to tramlines so discs can work in lands along the tramlines, maximising workrate and helping spread trash. Combine drivers are briefed to avoid leaving lumps of debris.

Winter barley establishment after wheat uses a similar cultivation regime to wheat after oilseed rape, drilling starting about Sep 25, giving a six to seven week window from harvest to drilling. Wheat straw for the dairy enterprise is taken at this stage of the rotation to avoid the need for ploughing, which delays the emergence of volunteers that cannot be controlled in the following crop.

Land going into second wheat is ploughed to bury blackgrass seed and then power-harrow/pressed, with an extra pass with the lighter set of discs and a press between on tough ground. Drilling is delayed until the second week of October to give a five to six week germination window and reduce the risk of take-all.

Any blackgrass that emerges is sprayed off pre-drilling with glyphosate. "It is the same principle really – we are trying to get the maximum amount of blackgrass to chit."

The plough also comes into play for spring cropping with peas and beans. This is the last priority and is scheduled for late September. The 2B discs and double press in tandem follow as soon as it is dry enough to produce a consolidated seedbed which overwinters giving virtually 100% control of blackgrass from a pre-drilling application of glyphosate.

Mr Green reckons labour and machinery at Bedfordia Farming is closely matched to workload. "The fact we took every opportunity and still didnt manage to get everything drilled last year, – a one in three-hundred year – shows we are not hugely over resourced."

Spring barley replaced 70ha (175 acres) of second wheat and set-aside was pushed up to nearly 25%. "Basically we didnt get any of our combinable spring break crops in. The land wasnt fit to drill until late April by which time the 140ha of maize required for the dairy was the only commercial option." &#42

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TILLAGE TACKLE

&#8226 Cousins 3.5m flat lift.

&#8226 12-furrow Gregoire Besson ploughs.

&#8226 3/4C series and 2B series Simba discs.

&#8226 Double and single Simba presses with DD rings.

&#8226 6m Kuhn power-harrow.

&#8226 6m and 4.8m Vaderstad Rapid drills.

&#8226 Cropped area: 1578ha (3900 acres) excluding set-aside.

Cultivations 2001

&#8226 When: Wed 19 Sept.

&#8226 Where: Off the A6 north of Bedford at Bedfordia Farming, Milton Earnest.

&#8226 Times: Open 9.30am-3.30pm.

&#8226 Cost: £5/head, £1 discount to NFU members, free to EEAS members.

&#8226 Demos: 50 plots for ploughs, drills, cultivators and other establishment tackle, plus special EEAS Bicentenary horse ploughing.

&#8226 Soil: Medium to heavy land.

&#8226 Facilities: Parking, catering and toilets on-site.

ESTABLISHMENT STRATEGY

&#8226 Calculated minimum cultivation approach.

&#8226 Maximise weed seed germination window.

&#8226 Blackgrass fields worked first, sprayed off last.

&#8226 Target start and finish date for all operations.

&#8226 Rotation spreads workload, minimises fixed costs, maximises weed control.

Cultivations in action at demo

Wed 19 Sep is your opportunity to see 47ha (116 acres) of Hanslope series soil ploughed, tilled and drilled with the latest kit from a host of manufacturers, says organiser East of England Agricultural Society.

This all-working demonstration at Bedfordia Farmings Twinwoods Farm, Milton Ernest, Beds will be split roughly one-third ploughing, one-third drilling or cultivating stubble and one-third drilling or working on ploughed land.

"Were expecting to have about 50 demonstration plots including a dozen or more ploughs," comments Mr Green. And it wont all be tyres and tracks. To mark the Societys bicentenary there will be an opportunity to turn a furrow the way it was done in 1801, working with real horse power.