10 May 2002

Experienced finger on the farm pulse

A TIGHT grip on farm management, including rigorous attention to spreader calibration and testing, characterises the management style of Nitram Fertiliser Award finalist Nicholas Ward.

"I like to be in control," says Mr Ward, who farms from West Harlsey, near Northallerton, Yorks.

"We keep records of every field, product and spreader setting, so we can refer back to previous year settings. Youve got to know whats going on at each application, so you can allow for the effects of other influences, such as weather," he says.

Pristine management and calibration of his Reco Sulky DPX 1504 twin-disc spreader are backed by records of rate and product. Together they allow him to declare with confidence that poor quality fertiliser produces a high proportion of powder that fails to spread effectively.

"We have picked this up in our tray tests, and seen it through the crop, with deeper green in the middle of the spread width." That underlies his long-standing use of SP5 product.

The spreader is tractor-mounted early in the season before switching to the farms Bateman 2500 self-propelled sprayer unit. Tray tests are carried out at each switch, to adjust for mounting height. They are also done for different products, within product batches that appear variable, for large variations in application rates, for different tramline widths, and if weather conditions suggest.

Soil nutrient balance is inherently fairly good. Since the farms dairy herd was sold and bull beef and pigs succumbed to foot-and-mouth cull, some fields remain high in P, but K needs maintaining with care.

Each field is soil tested every second or third year. But Mr Ward applies experience to test results. "Some field tests may show the same values, but dont give the same results," he observes. Sulphur is monitored, particularly for oilseed rape.

The simple rotation of two winter wheats/two winter barleys is being changed to give two first wheats on a wheat/beans/wheat/ barley/rape cycle. That will avoid second wheats and should also break the weed cycle.

As soon as weather allows first wheats get an initial dose from a total 180-200kg N /ha (145-160 units/acre), split three ways. "We try to manipulate apical dominance if we can, so the second application is three/four weeks later, if possible."

Nitrogen on milling wheats is topped off with a 30-37kg/ha (25-30 units/acre) ear-stage foliar application, just after watery ripe. Care is taken to spray early or late in the day, in quiet weather.

Mr Ward admits that the RB209 booklet can be tricky to interpret when first looked at. But he relies on its recommendations. "Just look at the pages relevant to what you are doing," he advises. &#42

Routine tray testing and recalibration of the spreader for every application avoids crop striping, says Yorks arable farmer Nicholas Ward.

&#8226 172 ha (425 acres) plus extra managed.

&#8226 Moderately heavy, patchy clay.

&#8226 Relatively high pH.

&#8226 Simple rotation with two first wheats.

&#8226 Estimated purchased N cost (applied): 38.5p/kg/N.

&#8226 NVZs: No problem.