29 September 2000

September drilling plans at sea

Sodden soils on FARMERS WEEKLYs southern barometer farm

have thwarted autumn fieldwork and reinforced the need for

flexible cereal establishment. Andrew Blake reports

HEAVY rain, with 100mm (4in) in four days on top of 25mm (1in) earlier in the month, has put paid to Simon Walters drilling plans at Manor Farm, Hayling Island, where onions have now been dropped from the rotation.

Imports have made small-scale onion growing uneconomic, he says. "With no onions to lift I had intended to start on the wheat a week earlier this time, mainly to make the job more leisurely.

"But in the past we didnt usually start sowing until the last week in September, so we are not late yet."

Provided further rain is light, output should not be compromised, believes agronomist Peter Cowlrick of Chichester Crop Consultancy. "The soil moisture deficit in mid-September was about 5in, which means we are only just back to square one."

"The important point is that we have stayed flexible with our equipment," says Mr Walter. "This isnt much of an autumn for minimal cultivation." Ploughing, rather than sub-soiling and discing, ahead of one-pass with the farms 3m Amazone RPD power harrow/drill will be the main approach – initially at least.

Cost wise, with the present machines well depreciated, there is little to choose between the two methods, he says. "Minimal cultivations only really score on big farms which need to do large acreages quickly."

Following last years first stab at reducing wheat seed rates, the results of which were inconclusive because of rabbit and Brent geese damage, the exercise is being repeated. Rates will start at 200 seeds/sq m for newcomer Claire and rise to 275 with Consort sown in October.

"But if the weather stays bad into October I shall keep the rates up, even if it means buying a bit more seed," says Mr Walter, recalling last autumns puddled, pest-hit early drillings, some of which had to be re-sown with spring wheat.

The main concerns for the new season are the high prices of fertiliser and fuel, he says. "Last year we bought urea for £66/t. This year its probably going to be £118. And diesel has gone up from 9.8p/litre to 23p."

MANORFARMAUTUMN

&#8226 Staying flexible on cultivations.

&#8226 Set-aside increase soon shunned.

&#8226 Fuel and fertiliser prices concern.

&#8226 Weather favouring slugs and phoma.

Simon Walter (right) and Peter Cowlrick are keen to see how this years Northern Conquest soya beans (inset), recently desiccated with Reglone (diquat), perform. Concern that the crops seed inoculant might need help in cold conditions led them to test various nitrogen boosts.