16 March 2001

Spring sowings patchy…

Our first seasonal call to

farmers weeklys barometer

farms from Dorset to Ross-

shire in Scotland finds big

differences in spring sowing

progress. Andrew Blake

provides an update

SPRING drilling is progressing apace for farmers weeklys south-west barometer farmer George Hosford.

Despite some foot-and-mouth hold-ups and slow emergence, early spring sowing has been among the best ever.

Elsewhere snow woes and still wet fields continue to delay progress, forcing night drilling on one farm(see panel).

With over 300ha (740 acres) of spring sowing done since mid-February, Mr Hosford considers himself surprisingly well-placed given the backlog he faced earlier.

This season, mainly because of over 1000mm (40in) of rain since Sept 1, about half the 684ha (1690 acres) of arable at Travellers Rest, Blandford, Dorset, will be spring-sown. "Normally we are two-thirds winter cropping. But after the awful autumn we stopped drilling in November and embarked on damage limitation.

That saw two 4m Amazone combination drills working flat out in a dry spell from Feb 18 to 26, sowing 155ha (383 acres) of Soissons and Claire winter wheat, Gerald winter oats, Victor spring beans and Optic spring barley.

Another 85ha (210 acres) of barley went in in early March. But sheep confined to stubbles because of foot-and-mouth sales restrictions delayed ploughing ahead of the remaining 13ha (32 acres) and 75ha (185 acres) of spring rape.

"I would like to get on with the rest of the barley, but it is still plenty early enough for oilseed rape," says Mr Hosford.

"All in all it is a pretty positive story from what is admittedly mainly light land."

Most spring drillings went straight into freshly ploughed or disced fields. Only over-wintered ploughing needed further work. "We had to rip that up. 3ft of rain since September tends to pack the ground pretty well."

All seed supplies, both home-saved and bought, were on farm before the foot-and-mouth crisis

Cold weather has delayed emergence. But Mr Hosford is reasonably confident of the outcome, even for his late sown winter wheats. Hard frosts should ensure their vernalisation, he believes.

"But I was very disappointed with some bought barley seed and I am keeping my fingers crossed. We saved 6-7t of our own, but it was not enough because of our changed cropping.

"The seed we bought, apparently from Shropshire, had lots of skinned grains in it and the sample certainly would not have gone for malting."

Most cropping is decided. "But a knife hangs over 23ha of Lexicon naked oats we sowed late into some difficult ground. Like a lot of our autumn cereals they look awful and may have to be replaced with spring oats because I want to keep a break there."

Barometer round-up

&#8226 WEST – Single-pass drill rescue

As in the autumn Tim Morriss newly acquired single-pass drill working closely behind the plough has come to the rescue at Coneygar Farm, Quenington in the Cotswolds. "We got all our 160 acres of Optic malting barley sown during the last week in February. On the whole our seed-beds were excellent and the drill was a triumph. Without it I do not think we would have got it all in."

&#8226 EAST – Wet weather woes

Wet weather continues to thwart sowing at Rhoon Farm, near Kings Lynn, Norfolk, where Stuart Knight is fast running out of time to ensure 80ha (200 acres) of spring wheat and 35ha (86 acres) of beans yield well. "It is very frustrating. We had 68mm of rain in February and have made very little progress. The ideal time for our Paragon wheat is already past and I really like to see beans in by the end of March. If we do not get on well have to think about changing cropping. Linseed will be the very last resort, but at least it is better than set-aside on payment."

&#8226 MIDLANDS – Night work key

Night-working on frosted ground has been the only way Brian Shaw has been able to drill at Barton Hill Farm, Lilley, Beds. "February was useless for us, and the ground is still very wet underneath. It has been too wet during the day for the FreeFlow drill and Quadtrac, but OK at night." About 40ha (100 acres) of home-saved Chariot spring barley and bought-in Paragon spring wheat was recently added to a similar area of Jan-sown spring barley. "But that still leaves us about 900 acres to do."

&#8226 NORTH – Snow trouble

Les Anderson has little hope of sowing any of his 200ha (500 acres) of spring barley and first-time spring wheat at West Morriston in the Borders before this weekend [ie MAR 17/18]. Snow cover prevented more than 30% of the scheduled spring cropping area being ploughed before the start of this week. "It is reasonably light land which should plough and sow no bother. The important thing is to have the ground in good order. Spring crops do not want mediocre seed-beds."

&#8226 SCOTLAND – Sowing still a way off

Snow only recently clearing from the farms Tom Robb manages near Invergordon means spring sowing is still some way off. "It will be a wee while yet, but hopefully we will get there." Ploughing for barley began only last week at Pitmaduthy and fieldwork on heavier land at Newmore was impossible, he notes. "We wont be drilling there until mid-April. I generally like to see barley in by the first week in April. We reckon delays cost us 1cwt/acre a week after April 10."

Barometer round-up

&#8226 WEST – One-pass drilling

As in the autumn Tim Morriss newly acquired single-pass drill working closely behind the plough has come to the rescue at Coneygar Farm, Quenington in the Cotswolds. "We got all our 160 acres of Optic malting barley sown during the last week in February. On the whole our seed-beds were excellent and the drill was a triumph. Without it I do not think we would have got it all in."

&#8226 EAST:Wet weather woes

Wet weather continues to thwart sowing at Rhoon Farm, near Kings Lynn, Norfolk, where Stuart Knight is fast running out of time to ensure 80ha (200 acres) of spring wheat and 35ha (86 acres) of beans yield well. "It is very frustrating. We have made very little progress. If we do not get on well have to think about changing cropping. Linseed will be the very last resort, but at least it is better than set-aside on payment."

&#8226 MIDLANDS:Night work key

Night-working on frosted ground has been the only way Brian Shaw has been able to drill at Barton Hill Farm, Lilley, Beds. "February was useless for us, and the ground is still very wet underneath. It has been too wet during the day for the FreeFlow drill and Quadtrac, but OK at night." About 40ha (100 acres) of home-saved Chariot spring barley and bought-in Paragon spring wheat was recently added to a similar area of Jan-sown spring barley. "But that still leaves us about 900 acres to do."

&#8226 NORTH: Snow trouble

Les Anderson has little hope of sowing any of his 200ha (500 acres) of spring barley and first-time spring wheat at West Morriston in the Borders before this weekend. Snow cover prevented more than 30% of the scheduled spring cropping area being ploughed before the start of this week. "It is reasonably light land which should plough and sow no bother."

&#8226 SCOTLAND:Still a way off

Snow only recently clearing from the farms Tom Robb manages near Invergordon means spring sowing is still some way off. Ploughing for barley began only last week at Pitmaduthy and fieldwork on heavier land at Newmore was impossible, he notes. "We wont be drilling there until mid-April. I generally like to see barley in by the first week in April. We reckon delays cost us 1cwt/acre a week after Apr 10."