22 September 1995

for northern OSR

September soak godsend

Horribly dry conditions for cultivations have given way to wetter weather which is set to help establishment in most of the UK. Andrew Blake and Robert Harris report on autumn progress on our barometer farms in the north and south

PREVIOUSLY dry oilseed rape seed-beds have soaked up plentiful recent rain at Lee Moor Farm, near Alnwick, Northumberland.

The moisture will also ease further cultivations on heavy clay soils, and encourage weeds to chit. This should give crops a good start, says barometer grower Ian Brown.

"Since the beginning of September we have had 102mm – 4in – of rain." Luckily, it began the day after he finished combining and stopped last week, allowing cultivations to restart.

It was a welcome soaking. Like many northern growers, Mr Brown drilled oilseed rape into bone-dry soils. But with no rain in sight, he delayed as long as possible.

"Our target date is Aug 20. We were a few days late, but warm ground helped make that up. It was difficult to decide when to start. We had to choose between waiting for rain, or risk seed chitting and then withering away had we had no moisture."

Right choice made

Looking back, he is sure he made the right choice. "This far north, rape needs to be in by the first week of September. Had we waited, we would have missed that timing."

Rape ground preparation started in early August, using a new four-furrow Lemken plough and press on barley stubbles. "The ground worked reasonably well. But it probably cost £2-3/acre in extra metal. Normally we change points once a season, but we had to renew them every 60 acres."

One pass with a Rau Rototiller was enough for the 3m (10ft) Ferrag/Lely combination drill to make a reasonable seed-bed, though some heavier areas needed more work. A Vaderstad roller consolidated soils.

Rain fell within a week. Most of the 24ha (60 acres) of Express has now emerged, apart from a cloddy patch which was rerolled last week to deter slugs. There was some grazing evident, so Mr Brown applied 5kg/ha (4.5lb/acre) of the molluscicide Genesis (thiodicarb) as well.

"Im not into spreading pellets two or three times. I prefer to get tight seed-beds on all crops. I also trap and keep an eye out for trouble."

Nitrogen was applied to the rape at 95kg/ha (76 units/acre). "Although the plants are all there, these particular fields are not the best for getting small seeds away. And leaching is not really a problem here."

Another 20ha (50 acres), set-aside this time, was ploughed in mid-August ready for seed and malting barley. The aim was to encourage wheat seed to chit – last years Linnet seed crop was rejected for wheat contamination.

Greening fields

Fields are now greening, so this should work well. It will also allow him to apply glyphosate (Roundup) where couch is a problem. Sprite malting barley will be drilled this weekend.

But he will delay sowing Fanfare for seed to allow the maximum time to remove the volunteers. "I will probably drill it at the end of the month."

Subsoiling was confined to tramlines on rotational set-aside. In other fields, deeply-cracked soils are judged to have done a good enough job.

The plough and press restarted last weekend. "Land is ploughing up very well," says Mr Brown. Fertiliser and lime are being applied as needed. He started drilling the first of the 47ha (116 acres) of Consort winter wheat midweek.

Drilling Cadenza

Cadenza wheat will be drilled in the second week of October, weather permitting. Most of the 28ha (70 acres) follows peas, the only ground not routinely ploughed. "Minimum tillage rarely works here. But peas provide an excellent entry for wheat. If there is not too much haulm, once over with the Rototiller should be enough."