13 December 1996

Late drillings no problem

Early drilling was not a priority for our Northern Ireland barometer farmer this autumn. Charles Abel visited the province to find out why

BY THE time John Best got into the heart of his autumn drilling programme, many cereal growers in East Anglia had long since finished.

But Mr Best, who farms 344ha (850 acres) from Acton House Farm, Poyntz Pass near Newry, was unworried. His goal was to start drilling barley on Sept 20 and continue well into October.

"We were tempted to drill early, but it just doesnt work in our climate. Crops can get too advanced during the mild winter, which makes for severe disease and lodging problems."

This year Hanna winter barley was drilled in late September, the winter oats in the first week of October and wheat over the following weeks.

Emergence has been good in all but the grass seed crop, which needs to put on more growth. The key to such success on the medium soils, which can become difficult to work in a wet autumn, is a Moore Uni-drill working straight onto ploughed, pressed land.

"The press wheels give us good consolidation and the disc seeder helps us get seed well down later in the season when crows can be a real problem," says Mr Best.

The 3m drill, which includes a Cousins tine harrow and Flexi-coil between the tractor linkage and Moore drill, demands at least 110hp. But the approach has worked well for 15 years.

Cost is put at £55/ha (£22/acre). That compares well with a power harrow/air drill combination, being cheaper to run and giving a better result, says Mr Best.

Most of this years 113ha (280 acres) of wheat is Brigadier, saved from a C1 crop grown last year. Tests showed good germination and no fusarium, so the seed was drilled without a seed treatment.

"Looking at it now, I would say we wont use seed treatments on any of our cereals next year," says Mr Best. However, he acknowledges that it is early days yet.

Initial seed rates were cut to 125kg/ha (8st/acre) to give 320 seeds/sq m and 300 plants/sq m. A thin stand is desired to minimise disease pressure. Later in the autumn rates rose to 156kg/ha (10st/acre).

Reaper has also performed well in the province and is being grown on 200ha (80 acres), some of it as C1 in case it is worth saving next year. "It yields well, even if it is a little iffy on standing according to the ARC list."

The remaining wheat area is Soissons for feed. "It yields well, but I dont think its any earlier than Brigadier here," notes Mr Best. This years delayed harvest meant oilseed rape drilling was delayed until September 3-10, prompting a cut in area to just 138ha (55 acres), half the area grown two years ago.

The rape is all Synergy, including the set-aside area for industrial use. "The price is good, even with a £20/t deduction for shipping to Liverpool for crushing."

Synergys vigour

Given Synergys vigour and yield potential Mr Best decided not to increase seed rate to allow for late drilling. An autumn fungicide was used for the first time.

Delayed fieldwork means a switch from spring to winter beans has been postponed another year. Spring beans disappointed this harvest – "Barker did 1.5t/acre, but Vasco was awful. It died from July and gave just 1t/acre."

That leaves winter oats as the other key crop. Gerald is the preferred variety, with 46ha (115 acres) drilled in early October. Naked oats have been tried, but yielded only 3.75t/ha (1.5t/acre), so are a non-starter, despite their good quality.

John Bests establishment policy hinges around plough and press followed by a Moore Uni-drill. It worked well again this autumn.


&#8226 Traditional drilling times favoured.

&#8226 Poor weather has prevented herbicide sprays.

&#8226 Mostly Brigadier w wheat, plus Reaper and Soissons.

&#8226 Winter barley area down.

&#8226 Synergy hybrid rape.

&#8226 Winter oats profitable.