22 September 1995

South cereal drilling on course

TIMELY rain after a long dry spell sees southern barometer Roger Lovejoy well on course to meet autumn cereal drilling schedules at Heads Farm, Chaddleworth, Berks.

Ideally he likes everything sown by the first week in October on the downland farm. "Weve done more ploughing than ever before at this stage. Weve been able to go at something every day, albeit a bit steadily." The first cereal, Buster winter wheat, went in on Sept 14. Barley can become too proud if sown that early, he says.

Longed-for moisture, with nearly 50mm (2in) in one day, was especially welcome for his 49ha (96 acres) of oilseed rape. The bulk was not sown until much later than usual because of dusty conditions.

Having drilled a small field of Amber on Aug 25 he "chickened out" of putting in his Synergy and Apex until Sept 1. Fortunately it rained well five days later, offsetting concern that the crops might not get away well enough to withstand the winter.

"It will be interesting to see whether Synergys claimed vigour is any advantage on our cold chalk land," he comments.

All the farm is ploughed, mainly to counter blackgrass. By mid-September the job was two-thirds done, thanks to a five-furrow reversible Kuhn linked to a "slightly over the top" 180hp John Deere tractor which helps limit wheel slip. Some "rock hard" fields were merely disced to encourage weed and volunteer chitting.

Creating seedbeds from the rolled ploughings should be relatively easy. Harking back to the days of straw-burning, he says firebreak headlands "always drilled a treat", compared with land turned over later in the wet.

Despite the initially hard going, cultivations cost little more than average in terms of spares. "Weve probably spent about £1/acre more." Tyre wear, which can be excessive on the flinty ground, may be another matter, he admits. "And we may have spent a bit more on diesel."

Subsoiling has been confined to tramlines and headlands, mainly to help the plough penetrate. "It kept riding out."

Rain is vital to chit shed cereals, he says. "All our winter barley is for malting this year – Melanie and Angora – and were growing an extra 100 acres. So its important to get the wheat volunteers through." Sting (glyphosate) will be used to kill them off before drilling.

Lime is being applied – to six fields – for the first time in 16 years. A third of the farm is tested annually for nutrients and pH. But patchy growth, especially in oilseed rape last season, set "alarm bells ringing" and led to more specific tests. "They showed we were down to a pH of 5.5 in places." About 600t of lime is going on at rates of 5-7.5t/ha (2-3t/acre).

After sowing "quite a lot" of farm-saved cereals last season, Mr Lovejoy is reverting to certified seed this autumn – all C2 generation. "We had quite a lot of barley in our wheat this year," he explains. Another reason is to avoid breaking off from field work to help the mobile cleaner.

Autumn herbicide programmes, which will inevitably include price-hiked isoproturon, remain "undecided". But he already has enough Tribunil (methabenzthiazuron) in hand to treat next years oats. With the product no longer being made, blackgrass control in the crop will become even more difficult, he believes.