16 November 2001

Red letter herbicide rule emerges for next season

By Andrew Blake

TWO valuable lessons have been learned this autumn on farmers weeklys south-western barometer farm in Dorset.

Min-till cultivations at Travellers Rest Farm near Blandford, which have accounted for about 70% of the winter cereals, need to be started sooner – as soon as the combine leaves the field, says George Hosford.

"And next year I am determined to make it a red letter rule that we start on our herbicide programme while we are still drilling. There is a lot of meadow grass in our min-tilled crops, which means we are having to use higher rates of IPU than if we had sprayed earlier."

Drilling began on Sept 20 with first wheats on the highest ground. But after heavy rain in early October, hopes that it could all be completed in an 11-day window were soon dashed. "We had 230mm in October, including 45mm on just one day, the 19th. But we still had 1100 of our 1120 acres all done by Oct 17, which is bang on target."

Main problem is that the long dry spell after harvest delayed chitting in stale seed-beds and left plenty of volunteer cereals to threaten crop quality. "We had to spray many of our fields twice with Roundup because we had a two-stage chit.

"We have had a lot oats in our early sown wheats where we ploughed, and we had to add 1.5 litres/ha of Hawk to our IPU/Panther mix to take them out." Most decisions are based on Arable Research Centre findings, he notes.

With cleavers treatments inevitable next spring, a switch to Tolugan (chlorotoluron) alone has been introduced where wild oats are known to be more troublesome.

Seed rates for the planned cereal cropping mix (Arable, Sept 21) of 225-250/sq m have produced some good stands. "I knocked off another 25 this year, but it has all come well."

Slugs are present, but crops have grown away from them and no pellets have been required. "We rolled nearly everything and not having any winter rape in our rotation probably helps quite a bit."

With plenty of sheep on the farm he is not averse to using them for grazing off lush cereals if necessary. "We have done it before and it does not frighten me. But I do not see any need yet."

Compared with Secur (imidacloprid) seed treatment, anti-BYDV sprays are still very cheap and far more attractive, he notes. "Secur works out at nearly £10/ha – cypermethrin is a matter of pence. We substituted Hallmark where there was a risk of the mix being a bit hot, for example with Hawk. We very rarely have to spray twice for aphids."

Glad to be drilled up on target, despite heavy October rain. But volunteer cereals are a concern for George Hosford (left) and Gary Sutherland after earlier bone-dry soils in Dorset.

Agronomy training

To help improve husbandry decision-making Mr Hosford recently embarked on an 18-day BASIS course. "It costs £1200 and is run by our local training group in Dorchester. It has already proving quite challenging, especially the two days we spent on weed identification.

"It is all stuff we are supposed to know, and I am fairly happy that I know my broadleaved weeds. But identifying grasses when they are small is much harder."

TRAVELLERS REST FARM

&#8226 Earlier cults & spraying need.

&#8226 Early grain sales rewarding.

&#8226 New drill decision postponed.

&#8226 BASIS course challenge.