16 October 1998

Late cereal drillings are of real concern now…

By Andrew Blake

CONCERN over late cereal drilling is growing north and south.

At the start of the week up to 40% less winter barley than planned was in the ground in Scotland and wheat drilling had barely begun. But some southern units, particularly larger ones, were almost completed, while others were only half done, says ADAS.

Main worry, apart from lower yields from delayed sowing, is slug damage. The time for cutting seed rates is past, warns ADAS head of arable Julian Hayes. "Low rates are fine for September when establishment may be 80-90%. Now it can easily be down to 50%."

Former Scottish barometer farmer John Drysdale, who runs about 1200ha (3000 acres) from Kilrie, Kirkaldy, Fife, is about a month behind schedule. "Its a serious problem. Conditions are absolutely dreadful."

Scottish winter barley sowings are about 60% down, adds Keith Dawson of Perth-based CSC CropCare. "The knock-on effect on rotations could be quite considerable. Only 30-40% of the wheat is in, and further north its a lot less."

At Percy Farms, Alnwick, Northumberland cereal sowing is less than half finished. "We still have 700 acres to do," says manager Tim Mallen. "We are on a knife edge. We need to decide fairly soon what to do about our second wheats." Set-aside could become a serious option if conditions dont improve within two weeks. "I am not keen on spring crops."

At the other end of the country ADASs Devon-based Bill Butler is relatively relaxed about progress on extreme soil variations. "Most of the problem areas, the heavy clays with 50-60in rain/yr, are drilled up." Overall much less has been done; but that is no bad thing, particularly with winter barley, he believes. Early-sown barleys were hit hard by take-all last season. "Last year January-sown yields were 0.5t/acre higher."

Somerset-based colleague Matt Craig, who estimates no more than 60% of his cereal area was drilled by the weekend, is more concerned. "People like to be done by mid October. When you begin to get to the end of the month there are generally fewer workable days as the ground gets to field capacity. And after October you start to see yield losses."

DRILLING PROGRESS

&#8226 Some southern units done.

&#8226 Northern farms struggling.

&#8226 Slug threat as strong as ever.

&#8226 Seed rate cuts inappropriate.