15 October 1999

Rain puts paid to a September drilling finish

Wet weather put an end to

plans to finish drilling by the

end of September at Hoe

Hall, but crop budgets

provide a glimmer of hope.

Simon Wragg reports

Wet weather put an end to

plans to finish drilling by the

end of September at Hoe

Hall, but crop budgets

provide a glimmer of hope.

Simon Wragg reports

WITH rain tapping at the office window, Simon Brock finds himself once again in the office, but he would rather be out drilling. "We are hideously behind schedule."

The plan was to finish all the drilling by the end of September. There are 100ha (247 acres) of winter wheat to drill – nearly half behind beet yet to be lifted – and 90ha (222 acres) of winter barley. "It is not that bad; we can drill 35ha a day with our two outfits, but it is waiting for a window to get out there," he says.

The delay is cutting potential yield by 0.25t/ha (0.1t/acre) a week.

Early drilling on heavy land went well. Although some areas dried out quickly, crop establishment was excellent. But that meant extra cultivations were needed to work down seed-beds. As the weather turned, slugs became a headache.

"Oilseed rape has suffered in particular. There has also been some grazing on new wheats, mainly those following rape. We have applied slug pellets on 75ha at a cost of £10/ha. It is on a par with other wet years," says Mr Brock.

About 15ha (37 acres) of oilseed rape may have to be re-drilled. An application of nitrogen has been put on to try and perk up the worst affected areas. "If it fails we may well replace that area with spring beans. At least there is the chance to get a £10-£15/t premium for human consumption if they make the right grade," adds Mr Brock.

On the emerged wheats – there are few second wheats this year – an application of cypermetherin to control aphids and prevent barley yellow dwarf virus has been applied at 0.25 litres/ha. Seed dressings were ruled out due to manufacturers doubts over efficacy on crops drilled at low seedrates (less than 100kg/ha on early drilled cereals).

Other sprays include herbicides for blackgrass and meadowgrass. "Hopefully one application will last."

Last years spray costings provide a good benchmark for this one. For winter wheat the target was £145/ha (£58/acre) and Mr Brock actually achieved £132/ha (£53/acre). The gross margin remains unaltered at £675/ha (£273/acre).

Bigger yields of 9.4t/ha (3.8t/acre) – up 4.5% on expectations – has compensated for a disappointing sale price of about £370/t, says James Keith. "Big yields and low prices. Thank God we have got a big shed full." Winter barley is much the same with costs within the £250/ha (£100/acre) budget and a slightly better yield leaving a gross margin of £640/ha (£259/acre). Nitrogen content of malting samples has been a problem, says Mr Brock.

"We will grow for feed in future and if we get a malting sample -needing a slightly lower nitrogen than we have got – then it will be a bonus."

Spring beans have been a winner though. Yielding 5.5t/ha (2.26t/acre), they sold well at £100/t for human grade to leave a healthy margin of £659/ha (£266/acre).

Elsewhere, other developments are moving slowly. A proposal for Countryside Stewardship is still with MAFF. "We are waiting to find out if legislation in Brussels will affect us. In particular we are looking at grass margins and strips on boundaries, particularly useful near watercourses. The set-aside rules are more flexible where the stewardship is fixed for 10 years."

More immediate is Mr Keiths Nuffield scholarship. With the first organic pigs expected to leave Hoe Hall at the end of the month, he is looking at Danish suppliers and the problems they face.

Speaking by phone from Copen-hagen, he said: "The Danes face similar problems; costs for organic feed are too high, we all need more organic cereal and protein crop growers. There is also a reluctance from the consumer to pay over a 20% premium for the product."

During his visits to producers and retailers he has noted more are going for the high welfare route demanded by Britain. "The factories only ever get inspections from our buyers. But they remain upbeat; we have all got a lot to learn about co-operative marketing."

The first organic pigs leaving Hoe Hall should weigh 85kg each, although some may be just a little light, he adds. "But that is not all bad. At least the chops will be slightly smaller which will bring the pack price down." &#42

Michael Edwards gets on with drilling winter wheat variety Riband. Slugs have been a problem on oilseed rape.