8 October 1999

Late drilling required, so seed-bed quality crucial

This years southern

barometer farm is bucking

the trend to early drilling.

Andrew Blake reports

DESPITE rumours that some Lincs farms were drilled up by the end of August, John Chalcraft remains quite relaxed even though the only winter crop sown at rain-soaked New Farm before October is oilseed rape.

Windows for fieldwork on the mainly light land at Kings Somborne, Hants have rarely been ajar this year. "They have either been open or shut. We had an opportunity to drill cereals in early September, but I took the view that we shouldnt. I can recall several years when we havent gone until the end of the month and crops didnt suffer too much. Equinox sown in mid-October two years ago gave us 89.7cwt/acre – one of our best-ever yields. But with hindsight Id have liked to have had some done."

Cleanacres agronomist Tom Blanchard is a bit more concerned. "I certainly wouldnt be happy if everything was at the two-leaf stage by Sept 30. But I would have preferred to see a bit more in by now. We learned an awful lot about early drilling last year and I believe Sept 20-30 is the ideal slot here."

"The key thing from now on will be seed-bed quality," says Mr Chalcraft. "Its important that we dont puddle crops in." While some ground has already been ploughed and pressed, first sowings once the weather permits will be on drier freshly turned fields using a 3m Greenland power harrow/drill combination. A disc/harrow unit may be needed ahead on some of the heavier fields. "We hope to roll everything afterwards to deter slugs."

The pests are a real threat this season, but so far have left 12.5ha (31 acres) of Apex Pinnacle oilseed rape untouched. Whether that is because of supposedly more vigorous plants from the larger graded seed is open to debate. "If we have to use pellets on it or for the cereals I would advise Metarex because it is pasta, rather than bran-based and lasts longer in wet weather," says Mr Blanchard.

Volunteers from sugar beet for seed several years ago could yet prove troublesome and merit Galtak (benazolin) herbicide. An initial half rate Katamaran (metazachlor + quinmerac)/Treflan (trifluralin) post-drilling tank-mix has already been used against meadow grass, poppies and cleavers.

Main change on the cereal land this autumn has been a doubling of stubble spraying against grass weeds, which should be reflected in lower inputs during the season. About 60ha (150 acres) have received some form of glyphosate. "We had a good flush of blackgrass and it is a lot cheaper to tackle it then than when it comes up in the crop. Later sowing should also make control easier, and we may get away with a just a residual herbicide."

Scope for low seed rates vanishes fast after Oct 1. "We are now thinking in terms of 300-350 seeds/sq m, varying it field by field, and maybe increasing to 400-450 on the clay cap. Up to Sept 10, 80-125 seeds/sq m would generally have been enough depending on the varietys tillering."

"Seed keeps rolling up and its been a bit frustrating not to be able to get on," says Mr Chalcraft. "We have had 36 50kg bags of Lexicon naked winter oats delivered for 48 acres. That doesnt sound a lot, but it is a bit like rice. It gave us a problem calibrating the drill last year."

Delayed sowing means the planned sequence of first wheats, barley, oats, second wheats is likely to be modified.

"I think we really ought to start with the oats now," says Mr Blanchard. "They have a narrower window for good establishment pre-winter."

Twelve hectares (30 acres) of Northern Conquest soya, still undesiccated at the end of last week, may nibble into first wheat sowings. &#42

NEWFARMESTABLISHMENT

&#8226 Only OSRsown by Oct 1.

&#8226 Later wheats can do well.

&#8226 Seed-bed quality vital.

&#8226 Late soya harvest effect.

Variety choice

Winter variety choices at New Farm tend to be driven by contracts for seed growing. "Over the years I have found it easier to get premiums for seed than for milling or malting," says Mr Chalcraft.

"On the wheats we are leaning towards milling types and have gone for Malacca. If it is taken seriously by millers it would seem to have a good future, and we shall carry on with Hereward, though this may be its last season."

Soft miller Claire is being repeated after delivering 9.6t/ha (3.9t/acre) of a pleasing sample after the rain, as is early maturing Isengrain which averaged 8.1t/ha (3.3t/acre).

Good local demand for Heligan winter barley sees it joining Maris Otter, which is being grown for seed.

Lexicon oats will double up on the same field as last season to giving a two-year break for a first wheat.

Blue skies have been rare at New Farm lately. But glyphosate stubble cleaning has gone well for John Chalcraft (left) and his adviser Tom Blanchard. Volunteer beet (inset) may be a problem in the Apex oilseed rape.