24 October 1997

Plant stands looking fine

MOST winter cereals have emerged and plant stands are looking quite respectable. The earlier sown areas drilled in September have been sprayed twice with a pyrethroid to control barley yellow dwarf virus vectors.

The second application being tank mixed with isoproturon, diflufenican, trifluralin and mecoprop-P for pre- and post-emergence weed control. Total cost of this cocktail is £13.36/ha (£5.41/acre).

There are some signs of mildew on the forward wheats, but we have resisted the temptation to spray in the hope that a change in weather will act as a cheap fungicide.

We have applied manganese as a seed dressing this year and are not anticipating an autumn spray of manganese sulphate.

The winter barley was dressed with systemic liquid fungicide – Ferrax, which should also alleviate an autumn spray.

The oilseed rape is another question however. The rainfall has encouraged the hitherto un germinated seed to emerge, albeit rather late in the day, and along with it an army of hungry slugs.

We have applied a dressing of Decoy (methiocarb) after slug traps indicated a large infestation and wait to see if a second application will be necessary.

Weed control is going to be a problem, not least because we have such a wide variation of plant growth stages. We also have the rare problem of trying to control cornflower and corn cockle, sown in our set-aside/wild flower mixes in previous seasons.

The idea of bringing colour and wildlife friendly species into our set-aside area seemed a good idea at the time, but we are now left with a legacy of weeds which may prove both difficult and expensive to control.

We felt that the cost of establishing the Emorsgate mixes on rotational set-aside could be justified on the grounds of a good entry for wheat, ideal habitat for song birds and game and pleasing to the eye, not only for ourselves but for the community.

Mill Farm problem

By strange coincidence I was talking to the manager of Mill Farm, Sawston, a farm owned by Spicers and farmed by farmers weekly for nearly 20 years. His problem was that having sown the same mix on non-rotational set-aside he had ended up with a 100% grass flora and no wild flowers!

It is important to top the area after seed has set to allow annual wild flowers to regenerate, but in this case the grass species were so dominant that the wild flowers had been starved out of existence.

I may have omitted to mention in previous reports the failure of our undersown Mongita perennial ryegrass this year.

The grass was undersown last spring in Riviera spring barley and was slow to establish in a very dry seed-bed. The cover crop of barley was also backward and rather weak and was given a boost of nitrogen in early May.

Predictably that proved too much after the summer rains and produced a very lush and frothy crop which had to be sprayed twice with plant growth regulator.

The crop stood well but was thick in leaf and straw which starved the ryegrass of light at a critical stage. The effect after harvest was a thin, patchy take of grass with the added burden of fusarium nivale. Advice from both Lincolnshire Seed Growers Association and contracting merchant Sharpes of Sleaford was to plough it in and re-establish next season. This has meant writing off more than £1200 worth of seed which has done nothing to aid the already sad ryegrass margin for this season.

All of that has necessitated a change in our cropping schedule for 1997/98 (see table). Since publishing our plan in August we have made minor changes to oilseed rape, linseed and pea areas to accommodate difficult and dry seed-beds. The wheat area has been reduced to make way for a field of winter barley and for the first time in many years, we will not be growing and harvesting perennial ryegrass.

Set-aside change

We have also had a change of plan regarding set-aside. We shall no longer have rotational set-aside in blocks moving around the farm but intend to go for semi-permanent 20m (66ft) strips placed strategically to provide bird cover and wild life corridors.

Those will be sown after seeking advice from MAFF and English Nature with whom we already have an agreement to manage a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) on the farm.

A field of Drake winter wheat receives its autumn medicine in the form of a tank-mix of the herbicides isoproturon, trifluralin, diflufenican and mecoprop and the insecticide cypermethrin to protect against BYDV-carrying aphids. The field was drilled in the first week of September.

Easton Lodge cropping plan 1997/1998


(ha)(acres)

Oilseed rape29.2472

Wheat99.77246

Winter barley11.0727

Linseed19.6549

Peas16.3841

Spring barley (under sown)12.0030

Sugar beet25.6463

Set-aside10.0025

Temp. grass1.574

Permanent pasture11.9529

Other land4.7312

242.00598