17 May 2002

Good planning vital for separate farms

By Peter Grimshaw

TRAFFIC dictates policy and practice for Chivers Farms arable enterprise, managed by Gavin Davies. Widely separated farm units woven into the busy road network around Cambridge require good planning.

Nipping back to base for a few litres of spray or extra kilos of fertiliser risks a 10-minute wait at every crossing for a tractor-safe gap in the stream of traffic, says the farmers weekly/Nitram Fertiliser Award finalist.

With two full-time staff plus two harvest casuals on 1060ha (2620 acres), Mr Davies has moved from a plough-based system to minimum tillage. The ground can bake out, so there is little margin for error. But generally heavy soils limit nutrient leaching.

He mainly uses liquid fertiliser, for easier logistics of storage and transport. However, one-third of N is applied as a solid. If contract work is undertaken more solid may be used, plus a switch back to 24m tramlines from the 30m system dictated by the farms SAM 3000 combined sprayer and liquid fertiliser spreader.

"I view N on wheats as a growth regulator," says Mr Davies. "Nitrogen totals are based on RB209 SNS, plus a little extra for first wheats, totalling 190-200kg/ha (150-160 units/acre). Half this is applied at GS32-33 and the rest at GS37. I try to apply N to yield potential, but keep one eye on lodging risk."

Foliar N is applied to milling wheats, with the farms own trials suggesting 40kg N/h plus sulphur gives the best response. A single dose of 100kg/ha sulphur is also applied routinely to oilseed rape, 100kg N/ha.

Phosphate status is inherently good, and clay soils mean native K is adequate. Levels are monitored by sampling and topped up at three-yearly intervals.

Spreading solid P and K fertiliser at 30m widths is inaccurate, so a contractor applies straights to stubbles at reduced bout widths, because labour is stretched then.

Fertiliser buying is competitive, with solids delivered in August and September. Liquid tanks are also filled before winter. Mr Davies asks suppliers to suggest products, based upon the nutrient requirement/ha that he specifies. If soil sampling is required he has it done by the previous years supplier, to ensure results are up to scratch.

Both the farms tractor drivers have been trained in fertiliser application and are guided by a work plan produced in the office.

Mr Davies does all the crop walking, with help from Morley Agricultural Consultancy. &#42

Fertiliser Award finalist Gavin Davies (centre) explains how he uses nitrogen as a growth regulator in Xi19 winter wheat, as the judges look on (l-r) Richard Martin (Terra), Peter Grimshaw (FW), Ian Richards (ECOPT) and Charlie McCririck (2001 winner).

&#8226 1060ha Hanslope clay plus some Milton Series.

&#8226 Neutral soil pH..

&#8226 Two winter wheats/oilseed rape/winter wheat/oilseed rape/winter beans, borage or echium.

&#8226 Estimated N cost (applied): 41p/kg/N.

&#8226 NVZs not expected to be a problem.