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Jim Bullock

6 September 2002

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

AFTER such an awful start to August I can hardly believe that harvest finished nearly a fortnight ago, our oilseed rape is drilled and our stale seedbeds in place ready for cereals.

Hereward was the highlight this harvest, averaging about 8.2t/ha (3.25 tons/acre). Despite the earlier weather worries quality appears to have held with Hagbergs around 300 and proteins above 14%. Probably my greatest disappointment was winter beans. Having established well at what we considered an optimum plant population – 18 plants/sq m – they grew to over 2.5m (8ft) tall and became infected with rust. That proved impossible to control, even with three sprays in some cases, and yield slumped to a less than impressive 3t/ha (24cwt/acre). Spring beans did over 3.7t/ha (30cwt/acre) and, as our best wheats followed spring beans, they will be the preferred option for next year.

We would like to have planted more oilseed rape this autumn but demand for straw has dropped off and establishing it in freshly incorporated straw is very risky. To be successful everything needs to be going for you. We know there are masses of slugs about and soil conditions are now very dry.

Straw disposal is going to become a problem so I think we will have to invest in a Vaderstad Carrier. A demonstration here earlier in the month did a first class job of incorporating chopped straw and producing a consolidated stale seedbed. I particularly liked the high output, which would enable us to keep up with the combine.

Following the proceedings at the Earth Summit, I understand that in the western world we are going to have to accept more agricultural produce from the developing nations. As I try to get all our quality assurance records up to date for this harvest year I wonder whether consumers will demand the same QA standards from these nations? I fear not. Such imports will simply serve as a threat for buyers to drive down our prices further, much as they have with Black Sea wheat. &#42

Spring beans were about average but winter beans a big disappointment in Worcs, says Jim Bullock.

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Jim Bullock

5 July 2002

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

HARVEST is just around the corner and preparations which could have been made months ago have, alas, been left until the last moment.

Keeping combining costs down to £16/ha (£6.40/acre) by running two old combines looks great in the middle of winter when doing budgets. But as harvest looms one remembers the hassle of keeping them running reliably. The secret is to go through each machine with a fine toothcomb, replacing any bearing or hose that could possibly fail during harvest.

With interest rates at an all-time low the temptation to buy new is great, especially when you visit your local dealer and see a row of new machines ready for delivery to neighbours. However, I tell myself that I will not have to worry about making payments to John Deere finance in the middle of the winter when ones shiny new machine is standing idle in the shed.

There are some very mixed messages coming from the industry at present. Prices for combinable crops are near all time lows yet machinery sales are on a high. Ridiculous rents are being paid for land and the price to buy shows no sign of falling. Obviously there are many with non-farming funds to invest in what seems like a good way of life.

Last week we attended one of the Interculturales events (Arable, June 28) put on by ITCF – the French equivalent of ADAS but with state funding. It was incredibly well organised with a mixture of formal presentations and visits to plots demonstrating specific topics regarding min-till.

More than 600 farmers attended and all were seated for a four-course lunch. In this country we are still arguing the merits of non-inversion tillage, yet in France they are onto the next step looking at cover crops and further ways of reducing costs and improving the environment. One French farmer we spoke to said min-till works for everybody so long as your management ability is up to scratch; doubting Thomases take note. &#42

Jim Bullock hopes last-minute hose and bearing replacements will keep combines rolling.

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Jim Bullock

17 May 2002

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

OAK before ash, in for a splash. Ash before oak, in for a soak. Looks like we are in for a bit of a splash this year. We have had showers at Mill Farm recently though they missed land just three miles away. Despite the dry conditions crops are not showing any drought symptoms as yet and it looks like being a season where non-inversion tillage may well come into its own. There is moisture just under the surface where there is a good covering of surface trash but where the soil is bare you must dig 75-100mm (3-4in) down to find moist soil.

Continuing the min-till theme there is a marked contrast in weed control in the spring beans. We have a small area that was ploughed which is now smothered in redshank, cleavers, charlock and wild oats. Whether the plough brought up more weed seeds or the soil dried out more, making the herbicide ineffective, it is difficult to say. Either way the net effect is a weedy crop. Direct-drilled crops are much cleaner but where we created a stale seed-bed last autumn and sprayed off this spring we are now getting a few wild oats coming back.

As farmers I am convinced we have to kick the cultivation habit. To date we have not had a complete disaster where we have direct drilled though where we have tried to create a stale seed-bed and failed we have had one or two nasty "messes". That is usually due to cultivating too deep then not allowing enough time to get everything to germinate before spraying off. What is needed is a breakthrough in coulter design that will allow us to direct drill under more varied conditions.

I find it hard to believe that tractor sales have picked up so much. When I sit down and do my sums the bottom line definitely does not say new tractor. Who are these people with all this money? Surely it cant be all be foot-and-mouth disease compensation. &#42

More moisture and fewer weeds…Jim Bullock says we have to break the cultivation habit.

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Jim Bullock

21 December 2001

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

ARABLE-WISE, the past month has been quiet. Spraying was completed in November as was cultivation ahead of spring beans.

Crops that were yellowing a few weeks ago have greened up. Plant growth has hardly stopped and large wheat and barley roots are already 80mm (20in) down worm-burrows. Worm activity has been tremendous all autumn with land that has been in lo-till for a number of years producing the greatest number of "thatched" worm burrows.

With so much wheat looking well nationally, I am pleased we took the decision to grow just Hereward on a Warburtons milling contract. I believe it may be difficult to find a home for some wheat next autumn. As our grain group manager told us at the Severn Grain annual meeting, we simply must start producing a product not a commodity. We are not big enough to be in the commodity business.

Recognising the chance of the UK government granting any money for conversion to conservation tillage is next to nil – unlike in Germany, Switzerland and Portugal where growers are being rewarded for their positive actions – we are looking into the possibility of branding products grown on integrated crop management systems.

A group in the US doing just that is receiving tremendous public support – 56% of consumers are prepared to pay a premium, of say 10%, for ICM products yet only 7% of Americans will pay the premium for organic products.

I am attending a lo-till conference in France where this concept is to be debated. I believe it will need international standards if the scheme is to work, otherwise it will go the same way as organics, with UK producers undercut by imports grown under less rigid rules.

Grass is the latest biofuel bright idea. A US study shows certain varieties make a type of hay which can be burnt to generate electricity. Just imagine grassing all set-aside with "flower rich", publicly popular, hay meadows for fuel use.

On that optimistic note, Merry Christmas to you all. &#42

Could produce grown under ICM systems be branded and marketed for a premium? asks Jim Bullock.

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Jim Bullock

26 October 2001

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

ALL we need is one more dry day to complete drilling the winter beans.

The cereals are all drilled and well up and I am fretting because we havent managed to get all the spraying completed. Typical farmer, never content – this time a year ago we had hardly anything drilled!

With soil conditions so good at drilling time we have cut all wheat and barley seed rates to 150kg/ha (1.2cwt/acre), aiming to drill 300 seeds/sq m. Previously we have never dared cut rates using the lo-till system, having had three very difficult autumns in a row. Slug damage and poor establishment was always a worry but our soils have improved dramatically over the past three years, becoming far more friable, improving seed-to-soil contact and the reducing the slug problem. The only slug damage has been where volunteer oilseed rape was allowed to get too big before being sprayed off.

Ploughing does nothing to control blackgrass on our land. A field that was ploughed this autumn for the first time in four years has turned up a real blackgrass problem, while reduced tillage and stale seed-beds have reduced our blackgrass problems elsewhere.

However, I wish the same could be said for the meadow grasses. Wet weather and poor in-crop control has led to a real problem in some fields, particularly after oilseed rape. Our autumn spray programme will be targeting this weed with the use of Kerb (propyzamide) in oilseed rape, ipu/Stomp (pendimethalin) in barley and Lexus (flupyrsulfuron-methyl)/Stomp in wheat.

Our August sown oilseed rape is over a foot tall with up to 14 leaves – at this rate it will be in flower by Christmas. Such a forward crop means there are very few weeds to be found and hopefully we will get away with just a fungicide and insecticide in that crop this autumn, cutting our costs. If Mrs Beckett gets her way and abolishes all support we will have reduce all our costs dramatically. Lets hope the Europeans over-rule her. &#42

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Jim Bullock

28 September 2001

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

THE contrast between drilling wheat this autumn and last could hardly be greater. Dry, dusty seed-beds are a welcome change to the mud we suffered last year.

Most of the cereals are being drilled into a stale seedbed created with discs and then rolled. Where the soil structure is good and trash is not a problem we will be direct drilling, but this will only be about 15% of the cropped area. We have had to resurrect the plough – Yes, the plough – to turnover some spring bean stubbles. The wet weather during July and August encouraged a massive flush of weeds, mainly knotgrass and fat-hen, which would have been difficult to bury with shallow cultivations and there would not have been time to create an effective stale seed-bed.

I had forgotten what a slow process ploughing is, especially so where soil structure had been damaged by cultivating and drilling last spring under less than favourable conditions. Now I wish I had been bold enough to direct drill all the spring crops; those that were, yielded reasonably well and were all but weed-free.

Our cover-crop plots continue to create interest. Of the plants established the mustard shows the most promise, fenugreek and buckwheat not making sufficient growth to be of use as a cover crop. The mustard broadcast into standing wheat at the beginning of August is in flower and has produced a massive root system. My only concerns are slugs and lack of moisture – the mustard may have drawn every last drop from the soil – useful in a wet year but not so good in a dry autumn.

We are told that last weeks events in the USA will affect all of us. How true. Only 24 hours after the disaster we ordered another load of tractor diesel to be told it had gone up by 3p/litre, a 13% increase or £75/load. Who will pocket the £75 and to whom can I pass on this cost? &#42

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Jim Bullock

14 April 2000

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

JUST one more spraying day and we would have been up to date; but then the wind, rain and snow intervened.

We did cover the urgent jobs, including treating the blackgrass and wild oats missed last autumn. Forward wheat crops have had Cycocel (chlormequat + choline chloride) and Eagle (amidosulfuron) where poor cleavers control in a previous bean crop had left a problem.

I was pleased we managed to get the spring beans drilled when it was still dry – we had 48mm (2in) of rain at the beginning of last week. The no-till drill easily put them in the required 75mm (3in), into moisture, after just one pass with the discs. They have since been sprayed with a mixture of simazine and Bullet (cyanazine + pendimethalin) for weed control.

The wet weather has meant we have had time to finish constructing our Lo-Till Rake, a heavy harrow designed to redistribute straw and chaff behind the combine and create a mini seed-bed at the same time. That should encourage weed seeds and volunteers to grow. It is a fairly common device in America and Europe, and could be the key to making No-Till drilling foolproof under UK conditions.

It was a strange sight last week to see our oilseed rape in flower with the snow-covered Malvern Hills in the background. Is it global warming? Overnight frosts and cold days mean the pod set will be low, I fear. Our poorest looking, later-drilled, later-maturing, pigeon-grazed crops, will probably turn out to be the top yielders.

I am fed up with hearing about the problems at Rover. According to MAFF figures, 22,000 jobs were lost in farming in the year to June 1999, mostly due to our industrys efficiency. Rover jobs are being lost due to inefficiency, yet few workers will leave without a substantial redundancy payment and millions will be poured into the affected areas for retraining and so on. Few of those leaving farming will get a thing. &#42

Early oilseed rape crops are in flower on Jim Bullocks Worcs farm, but with snow on the hills last week, pollination could be poor, he fears.

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Jim Bullock

15 May 1998

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

WHILE writing my previous Farmer Focus article, I had not appreciated just how hard it was raining.

In just 24 hours 75mm (3in) fell flooding most of our land. Wet and windy weather since has made fieldwork very erratic. At least we have been able to get the IACs form in early, so I hope we will be in the first batch to be paid.

We had plenty of time to prepare both materially and mentally for our Assured Combinable Crops Scheme inspection, which took place at the beginning of May. I think we have been accepted, but until we have had the letter I am not committing myself.

It has not been a season for taking large amounts of chemical into stock, as we have had to change our programme nearly on a daily basis. We have been collecting from our distributor only as much as we know we can apply in the following few hours.

The main change has been to the wheat pgr programme. We planned to use a split application of chlormequat, followed by a low dose of Terpal (2-chloroethylphoshonic acid + mepiquat chloride) on the varieties more likely to lodge, such as Rialto. But we have had to use Terpal on most crops, having missed second chlormequats or not got anything on before GS33.

All wheats are showing signs of septoria, so they have either been treated with 0.5 litres/ha of Silvacure (tebuconazole + triademenol) or 0.5 litres/ha of Sanction (flusilazole) where eyespot was present. This should take us to GS37/39 when we will have to decide where to use our allocation of Strobilurins, probably on Hereward first wheats.

Apex rape is now in full flower and shows no sign of disease. Pollen beetles have disappeared, so with luck no further money will be spent on the crop. But chocolate spot in beans will need treating as the weather warms up.

Hopefully this store will be full of assured grain next harvest, says Jim Bullock, following the farms Assured Combineable Crop Scheme inspection earlier this month.

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Jim Bullock

20 February 1998

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans.

IT has been relatively dry this past fortnight, which has enabled us to catch up with one or two of the more urgent jobs, such as spraying out some quite large grass weeds in the oilseed rape and volunteer beans in wheat.

Some of the rape on poorer, thinner soils is beginning to show signs of sulphur deficiency. This is probably due to it being mid-September drilled, poorly rooted and standing in water for the past two months.

One or two fields of wheat, again later drilled (mid-October), are beginning to look a bit yellow, too. We have got wet areas reappearing where we have not seen them for three or four years, so we are going to have to do some careful field walking before we go out with the first application of nitrogen at the end of the month.

Last week I attended a BASIS Crop Protection Management course at the RAC Cirencester. It was well worth doing. Not only was it useful revision, but it also highlighted the legislation that, as users of pesticides, we are now subject to.

This will be essential as we all become more involved with crop assurance and traceability. It also made me realise that in future, with tighter margins and the need to make instant decisions, full BASIS training will be necessary.

Also at the RAC, I attended an Integrated Crop Management workshop. When the College held its last ICM workshop two years ago it had difficulty filling all the places. This time it was over-subscribed, with over 140 farmers and advisers attending. That goes to show the interest in the subject.

Like the Assured Combinable Crops schemes, ICM initially looks like something to avoid. But when you come to understand it, all you are looking at is realistic farm management. &#42

Having caught up with the more urgent field-work, including looking into wet spots that have reappeared after three or four years, Jim Bullock has been getting up to date with a BASIS Course and an ICM Workshop at the RAC, Cirencester. Both have given him a more optimistic view of current and likely future constraints on the arable sector.

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JIm Bullock

23 January 1998

JIm Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

I HAVE no idea how much rain we have had recently as my rain gauge blew away on Christmas Eve! The only implement to be used on the land of late has been a spade, to try to let off some of the surface water.

With the markets for most agricultural produce on the floor and likely to remain there for some time, it is interesting to hear an outsiders view of our industry.

While shooting recently I met an engineer who could not believe farmers knew so little about the final destination of their produce, how many hands it passed through and who the competitors are. In his business being so poorly informed would be a recipe for disaster, he said.

That made me think of the unsubsidised horticultural industry. It has seen some major changes in the last 10 years. Growers now produce for a specific market and I know of one who thinks nothing of going to Spain or Mexico to see what his competitors are up to.

Perhaps arable farmers should adopt a similar approach. A market research trip to the American Mid-West this spring sounds very appealing.

Meanwhile, I must congratulate the NFU and its members on the "Keep Britain Farming" campaign. It was pleasing to hear the general publics support when interviewed outside provincial supermarkets before Christmas. But do shoppers in Wandsworth and Walthamstow share the same view?

I am afraid much of the public only buys our products if they are the cheapest. It is easy to see why. As agrochemical purchasers we have not asked whether the IPU we bought this autumn for £14 a can was produced in a less environmentally friendly manner than the IPU we bought last year at £24 a can. It still works, it costs less, so we bought it. I believe a lot of consumers feel the same way about their food. &#42

Taking a closer look at what our arable farming competitors are up to overseas could pay dividends, suggests Worcs farmer Jim Bullock.

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Jim Bullock

28 November 1997

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans.

HAVING been away from the farm for a few days it is surprising to see how the later mid-October sown wheats have caught up with the earlier September drilled crops.

Frosts down to -7C (18F) in late October did not do some of the more forward crops a lot of good. Rialto showed the most damage, but the mild weather now is helping it grow away again.

About two-thirds of our autumn spraying is done. So far we have used our usual IPU/DFF mix, varying the IPU rate according to blackgrass severity. I know we should be looking at other products, but with IPU at £16 for 5 litres it is a good starting point.

The wheat left to spray will be treated with different products, such as Lexus Class (flupyrsulfuron-methyl + carfentrazone-ethyl) and Treflan (trifluralin), where we know we have difficult blackgrass.

The Apex oilseed rape had 42.5kg/ha (34 units/acre) of nitrogen at the end of October to give it a bit of a boost. It was drilled later than we would have liked and needed to grow away from the pigeons.

Our Target winter beans were ploughed down during the latter part of October and are now beginning to emerge. Beans are a crop where we need to keep our inputs to an absolute minimum and I think mechanical weeding could help. At the Agritechnica event in Germany, I saw various such machines on show. They could be particularly useful for removing some of the expensive-to-control broad-leaved weeds in early spring.

Direct drilling also seemed to be in fashion at the German show. Several companies were showing equipment for spreading chopped straw evenly before using the drill. The aim is to produce no more than 25mm (1in) of tilth, in which weed seeds and volunteers can quickly germinate before being sprayed off before drilling. &#42

A visit to the Agritechnica machinery show in Germany has fired Jim Bullock with ideas for cutting bean and cereal production costs.

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Jim Bullock

31 October 1997

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans.

I MAKE no apologies for beginning by complaining about the weather. As I write, the grain drill is standing idle for the third consecutive day and still more rain is falling.

Although we have been able to catch up after a late wheat harvest (our combines stood still for 17 days during August), we still have two to three days drilling left. At this time of year, with day length shortening and field conditions deteriorating, that can soon stretch to four or five days.

Every season we try to improve and speed up our crop establishment system. But having tried minimal cultivation, which only seems to work well in dry years, we always return to the plough and power harrow.

We find on our variable land that the system which gives us the most consistent results under all weathers is to plough as early as feasible, roll if it is dry enough and then leave the ploughing to weather for as long as possible. We then make a single shallow pass with a power harrow just in front of the power harrow/drill combination. The extra pass with the power harrow not only firms the seed-bed, which helps maintain an even drilling depth, but also speeds up the drill combination considerably allowing us to establish 12-16ha (30-40 acres) in a nine-hour day.

The oilseed rape will soon need a graminicide to control some quite strong blackgrass, but I hope the crop will be vigorous enough to swamp the broad-leaved weeds. Most of the land was ploughed and the rape drilled into a stale seed-bed sprayed off with glyphosate before drilling, which should help cut the weed burden.

When we come to spray for grass weeds in the cereals this autumn I shall be looking for a product with some contact action. Our standard mixture of IPU/DFF has worked well over the years, but I am concerned that some of the blackgrass plants are increasingly coming up from below the zone where the IPU is active. An added problem could be scorch with the rapid growth we are seeing this autumn.

Jim Bullock finds early ploughing and rolling gives the most consistent cereal establishment on his variable soil types.

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