Harvest hopes round regions
As harvest approaches Andrew Blake finds out what farmers weeklys barometer
farmers are most looking forward to as a result of this seasons husbandry efforts
In Somerset Chris Salisbury is especially keen to see the outcome of heavy investment in what for him is early sown (Sept 20) Claire winter wheat.
"We have some excellent looking crops on our light land at Yeovil – wheat after peas looks fantastic. I am quite excited because theyve had the moisture and inputs, and Im confident some will do in excess of 11t/ha, which would be brilliant for us."
Much of the potential is due to taking agronomist Jon Midwoods advice, he acknowledges. "These are his first proper crops after the appalling year before and we have put a lot more into them. We used a T3 fungicide for instance and more pgrs and nitrogen – up to 220kg/ha even after peas. Theres no doubt it was the right decision."
On the downside, wheat on heavy land at Bickenhall, near Taunton, where half goes for whole crop silage, is unlikely to average much more than 8.5t/ha off the combine. "We have a couple of fields which might do 10t. But the yield potential isnt there on the heavy clay so we didnt use a T3.
"There will be a lot at 7-7.5t/ha which, with the way I have structured the farm with contract harvesting and cultivations, makes set-aside look quite viable."
In Surrey Simon Porter hopes his rejigged use of urea will have paid off by achieving full premium-earning quality for Malacca and Isengrain – both grown as second wheats.
"We havent made 13% protein in the past two years even though we used 250-260kg/ha of N." This season the rate was raised to a total of 300kg/ha (240 units/acre), with 40kg of urea going on for the first time as granules in May and another 40 as liquid at the watery ripe stage in June. Previous tactics have involved 60kg/ha in a single foliar hit.
A similar strategy has been adopted with Option after oats.
"We are now looking forward to high yields and high protein, although the Option doesnt seem as disease resistant as NIAB indicates. We needed a more robust fungicide programme than anticipated."
He is "reasonably upbeat" about most crops at Penn Croft Farms, Farnham. Arrow peas, replacing Princess, appear especially promising.
"The only exceptions are 50 acres of late November-sown wheat which was really hammered by slugs and our Courage oilseed rape." The latter is supposed to be an early variety. But after indifferent pod set it now looks as though it will mature quite late and yield could suffer, he believes.
In Essex Peter Wombwell is eager to see how Xi19 wheat sown in late November after sugar beet performs. "It started slowly but has come up on the outside and I am very pleased with it. It has good sized ears and we have used foliar N on it to boost the grain nitrogen."
Oilseed rape desiccation at Rectory Farm, Ickleton began on Jun 27, but Mr Wombwell is making no predictions for his Canberra and Madrigal.
"Its always one of the most difficult crops to guess at. Sometimes it just pours into the tank. Other years it grows like mad and you expect phenomenal yields which then dont come. Its probably a case of the sparser the plants the better."
His main reason for any optimism is that June was generally cool with sufficient rain to keep crops growing on the rather drought-prone land. "Nothing has burned up," he explains. "Weve caught odd showers and had an inch in one night. It has helped everything especially spring crops."
Winter barley growth regulator and fungicide inputs may have been somewhat excessive given the dry April which kept disease levels low, he admits. "We maybe should have cut more. But with hindsight wed all be millionaires."
After a slow start peas caught up well, albeit with rather more weed than wanted. Again with use will be post-emergence.
For Sandy Walker in Shropshire the outcome of August-sown Claire, designed to "put some fun back into the job", is most keenly awaited.
Despite being sown on Aug 21 the Masstock-managed crop after set-aside has cost little more to grow than his other wheats at Ercall Park, Telford. "Its all still standing up and looking well."
Ace (flufenacet + pendimethalin) herbicide worked well on the wild oats there. Many other fields without the treatment required specific wild oat herbicides later, offsetting their initially lower costs, he explains.
November-sown Chablis spring wheat from last years seed also looks well as do spring beans, he reports. "We didnt drill them too thickly and they have branched well."
His main concern is the lack of recent rain. "June was quite dry for us, and we are seeing the lighter parts of cereal fields going off. Most people with potatoes have been irrigating round here."
BYDV also appears to have been more widespread in wheat than usual despite Secur (imidacloprid) seed treatment and two autumn aphicides. "Its really only in little areas, but I am quite disappointed to see it."
With the damage worst near set-aside headlands, Mr Walker believes aphids harboured by grasses may be largely to blame.
William Hemus is another barometer farmer hoping to see better quality from Malacca after growing it for the first time last season in his continuous wheat slot.
"Protein wasnt a problem last year." So nitrogen tactics, including a late foliar dressing, have remained the same. However, low yield last harvest, probably contributing to the excellent protein, as well as poor specific weight raise doubts about the varietys role in continuous cropping, he says.
Another concern is patches of wheat dying off, even in first crop Claire. "I am not convinced its due to take-all. I have pulled plants up and washed them and I think its mainly sharp eyespot – you can see the lesions." Later sown Claire and Savannah after potatoes seem relatively unaffected.
"We have seen it before but a long time ago. Im not sure what effect it will have on yields, but I cant see any records being broken, and it may lower our Malaccas specific weight."
Peas and oilseed rape present a potentially mixed bag. The heaviest of three fields of peas suffered waterlogging quite badly in May, as did one of oilseed rape after set-aside. "Looking back I suspect we ought to have ploughed it," he says.
Could the days of summer inter-farm crop competitions be over? Thats a question recently debated between Catherine Thompson and her local NFU secretary.
"Growing a visually good crop is probably no longer the same as producing a profitable one," says Mrs Thompson.
That said she had hoped her oilseed rape at Holme House, Holme on Spalding Moor would have looked better by now. "Its awful – and its right on the roadside."
She blames having to plough to undo soil structure damage caused by flooding two winters ago. That meant the land then became too dry for good establishment, and mayweed took advantage of the patchy stand, she explains. "It looks a mess."
On the plus side Sept 10-drilled Claire wheat on heavy land is full of promise. Whether it will suffer from restricted fungicide input remains to be seen.
"We didnt use a T3 for the first time ever. Our T2 strobilurin was delayed and even when the boots were splitting there was very little disease. The considered opinion at the time was that only if you had gone with an early T2 or were growing quality wheat was a T3 worthwhile.
"But I wish we had done some more because we still had to go back on the light land Consort for mildew with some Corbel from store."
Main interest for Robert Ramsay will be how his first shot at producing milling wheat, Malacca, will turn out. Plenty of late nitrogen, with up to two-thirds applied at flag leaf, should have helped offset the varietys tendency to low proteins, he believes.
Bogged down combines unable to get to grips with what promise to be reasonable crops is his only slight concern.
"With all the rain weve had they might sink right out of sight. We can cope with low yields, but not being able to travel is scary."
Hardly a day this season has passed without rain at West Mains of Kinblethmont, near Arbroath, he notes.
Biggest crop surprise is the relative absence of leaf spotting in Siberia and Sequel winter barleys on the farm. "It came in very quickly in Angela on our Borders land."
Keeping the crop on his more fertile land helped the leaves to wax up fully and kept the problem at bay, he speculates.
"I am generally optimistic. There is certainly a mass of crop there to push the yields, but weve had very little sunshine."
Given the soaking that Carse Hall, Ballykelly, has received this summer, Robert Craig is pleased he opted for a more robust winter barley growth regulator programme of two hits with a Moddus (trinexapac-methyl)/chlormequat mix.
"Its all stood up even though we have had a lot of heavy rain." He switched from Barleyquat (chlormequat) because he knew he would be applying Acanto (picoxystrobin) fungicide and using fewer triazoles which offer some growth regulation.
However, leaching from the excessive rain, which has hit spring barleys hard in the area (Arable June 28), means the 150kg/ha (120 units/acre) of nitrogen he applied may not have been enough. "Were maybe 20 units shy."
Despite regular farmyard manure and slurry use yields could be 10% down as a result, he estimates.
Wheat, originally intended for whole crop silage, will now be crimped at 35% moisture instead, because that involves less trailer sides swapping.
The crops performance rests largely on how much sunshine it receives before the anticipated Aug 20 cutting date. But an uneven take behind the MF30 drill is likely to limit output, he believes.
Inability to apply selective herbicides because of the wet means peas for silage are now yellow with charlock, he adds. *