2 May 1997

Good timings vital for good establishment

TIMING is critical if crops are to establish successfully in the dry, late summers at Alconbury.

The farm gets just 500mm (20in) of rain, mostly in the winter. But healthy looking crops even this year prove the system works.

All fields are tile-drained to allow timely operations and encourage good autumn rooting, giving plants better access to moisture in dry times.

Most land is ploughed, except where oilseed rape follows wheat, when discs and rolls are used. 6m (20ft) power harrows are used for final preparation before drilling with an 8m (26ft) Accord drill. Machinery costs are pared to £175/ha (£71/acre).

Oilseed rape drilling starts in the last week of August and finishes in the first week of September. Last autumn soils were dry, but some rain soon after drilling saw good emergence. "We aim to get a fine seed-bed in the top 2-3in," says Mr Turney. That makes the most of any rain, unlike some of the plots at the Cereals 97 site where crops have failed.

Seed rates range from 7-9kg/ha depending on soil type and seed-bed. "In two years out of three, 5kg/ha may produce a few % more yield. But in the other year, yields would be well down."

No wheat is drilled before the third week of September, so seed has less time to wait for moisture. Despite that, 10% – the earliest drilled – needed to be resown this season. "I sow 450 seeds a sq m from mid-September onwards and rarely find crops are too thick."

Nothing emerged before the wet November. "Some areas looked a bit thin, but they came in the end." All crops now look well after helpful weekend rain. &#42