30 November 2001

Spot on establishment gives crops flying start

The ultra-early sowing gamble for winter cereals on

farmers weeklys Berwickshire barometer farm really

seems to have paid off. Andrew Blake reports

STARTING drilling earlier than ever, with wheat on Sept 2, Les Anderson had everything sown as planned at West Morriston Farm, Earlston, by Oct 13, before heavy rain set in.

"We have some cracking looking crops, so I am just enjoying what we have done."

Keen not to sound smug, he says the decision to continue ploughing and drilling immediately after oilseed rape sowing was clearly the right one. "Some people round here were even drilling wheat in August. Others, who held back, are probably regretting it.

"Normally by the time we finish sowing barley at the end of September, we have about 200ha of wheat still to drill. This time we had just a couple of fields to do."

Bearing in mind harvest and autumn workloads he resisted the temptation to sow more. "Besides we already have our home-saved spring barley seed."

His concern that the oilseed rape might be too far advanced after the exceptionally mild autumn remains. "It is still horribly forward. But I defy any pigeon to land in it, and I would far rather have it that way than just a few plants here and there."

For Les Anderson, plough and combination drilling is the best establishment method.

Barley ear sprays cut autumn disease

THE apparent knock-on effect of ear fungicides on winter barley is very clear, says Mr Anderson.

"Even though it has been so mild and the barley has never stopped growing, there is very little disease on it. Often we have to spray for autumn mildew, and by now I would have expected the crops to have been riddled with it."

SAC Scottish Agronomy experience suggests this could be the impact of a June spray of Amistar/ Unix (azoxystrobin/cyprodinil) at 0.5 litres/ha and 0.4kg/ha on diseases normally carried over in trash.

"Huw Phillips says barley alongside straw stacks from treated crops and even plants on those stacks are still clean."

Cleavers extra clout

For the second year running Katamaran (metazachlor + quinmerac) has been used as the main oilseed rape herbicide. "We are trying to deal with cleavers as hard as we can, because they can be very difficult to clean out," says Mr Anderson.

"We have also used a bit of Falcon on the headrigs to take out volunteer cereals. But compared with cleaning cleavers, removing barley from oilseed rape is easy. The rape simply slips through our 4mm sieve."

In the absence of blackgrass there is little need to change the cereal policy based on mixtures of Panther with isoproturon, with all sprays including an anti-BYDV treatment to be on the safe side, he says. "At only £1.40/ha extra it does not break the bank."

Min-till arguments are unconvincing

DEMONSTRATIONS of several alternatives to the farms plough and combination drill approach have failed to convince Mr Anderson that he needs to adopt a min-till system.

"We have reviewed our policy, and we will be looking hard at getting a new plough, but we certainly wont be going min-till." Trial organisations suggest many northern soil types, including those at West Morriston, are inherently unsuited to the technique, he says.

"One of the sales pitches is that your yields may drop a bit for the first three years, but then come up again to more than they were before.

"I simply cannot see that we could be getting any higher yields by changing, and I am not prepared to accept three years of lower output to find out.

"Our wheat yields this year averaged 3.4t/acre – our highest ever, despite the awful start and wet spring."

One option being considered is to change to a combination drill with disc instead of Suffolk coulters, he says. That would increase overall flexibility and perhaps allow cheaper seed-beds to be produced by discing.

The argument that reduced tillage means lower costs is unconvincing. "Quite a lot has been done round here, but many people are having to spend extra money on nitrogen to get their crops to move. And on one oilseed rape trial comparing it alongside ploughing you could see the runch after the min-till to a line."

Vying to provide the new plough are Kuhn, Kverneland and Lemken. "We have tried conventional and slatted mouldboards, but have yet to decide which to go for. Besides, with everyone buying min-till I should get a good deal."

Drill replacement, if deemed necessary, lies between another Kuhn and the Lemken Solitaire. "They are very similar machines." &#42