22 March 2002

ON OUR FARMS

EASTON LODGE

Spring wind no problem

THE wind seems to have blown non-stop since the beginning of the month, which when one has a spring drilling programme to carry out, is no bad thing. The land for both peas and sugar beet has wintered well. It was all ploughed and pressed in good conditions and unlike some years has had a few frosts to weather down the furrows.

Muriate of potash has been applied to the pea land and about one-third has been sprayed with glyphosate to control a rash of broad leaved weeds before preparing a seed-bed.

Making a start

The tractor wheelings have been pulled through with a Kongskilde Vibro Flex and all is set now the seed has arrived to make a start. That at least was the plan on Mar 5 but farm foreman David Cham reported some concern for the clutch on the Fendt 395 systems tractor, which for us, is committed to our power harrow/drill combination unit.

Do we press on and risk damage to the flywheel and add to what will already be an expensive repair or do we accept the downtime and run it into the dealers, A T Houghton at Shearsby, near Leicester?

Talking the job through with workshop manager Richard Houghton we decided on the latter but were fully prepared for the tractor to be out of action for a week. With nearly 5000 hours on the clock we opted for a dealers 1000-hour service while the tractor was in for repairs and eventually got it back on Thursday afternoon, Mar 14. We then rapidly build up the drill and power harrow, front wheel press and dual wheels by which time it was dark. More of this anon since I have now reached the deadline for this report!

We may not have been able to drill our peas but we have not been idle in the intervening period. As luck would have it, while the weather was dry and perfect for sowing the wind has reduced the window of opportunity for spraying and top dressing. Temperatures, too, have not been exactly conducive to applying growth regulators and hormone week killers.

Pearl winter barley and early-September drilled Malacca wheat have received a first nitrogen top dressing of 46kgN/ha (37 units/acre) of prilled urea.

This is the first of two applications for the barley, the second will go on by the end of March and the two together will total between 120kgN/ha and 140kgN/ha (98 units/acre and 112 units/acre) depending on the field and crop potential.

The lower rate of nitrogen will suit the thinner, poorer crops but hopefully the yields should be big enough on the rest to dilute the slightly higher rate and still allow us to make the grain nitrogen levels in our contract (maximum 1.8).

Three dressings

The wheat has three dressings excluding the application for grain protein in the summer. The second dose will be applied at the start of stem extension in early April and the third at around third node by the end of April, both will be in equal proportions. The total spring nitrogen will vary between 240kgN/ha and 260kgN/ha (192 units/acre and 208 units/acre) for the early sown crops, pulling back 30-40kgN/ha (24-32 units/acre) for the late drillings after sugar beet. All the wheat bar the home saved seed plots is Malacca and will therefore have a further 40kgN/ha as liquid urea applied post anthesis.

Nitrogen on the oilseed rape also comes in three applications. The first, 65kgN/ha (52 units/acre) went on in mid-February and will be followed by 70-90kgN/ha (56-72 units/acre) in the third week of March. A final 45kgN/ha (36 units/acre) will be applied as late as possible, consistent with being able to travel through the crop with our Kuhn Aero spreader.

The growth regulator for the rape must be applied before the second nitrogen in an effort to shorten and strengthen the stem therefore making combining easier and reducing header losses. Hopefully by the time you read this both tasks will have been completed.

Spraying criteria

We have managed to find one or two days when good spraying conditions have been met. The late sown wheat after sugar beet has been sprayed with a residual herbicide mixture for broad leaved weeds and grasses. The early September-sown wheat has been sprayed with a growth regulator, some fields have been mixed with a herbicide to take out large overwintered broad leaved weeds, others with a herbicide to tackle cleavers and the third option in 10ha was to add a fungicide to control eyespot.

What of the sugar beet? I must say we have been tempted, especially after the wet spring last year, to make a start with the drilling. But I prefer to sow our comparatively small area of 19ha (47 acres) nearer to the end of March or even early April rather than go too early and expose the germinating seed to wintery conditions. Emergence and plant stand suffer and I have always felt it is better to sow into good conditions when the young plants get moving unchecked rather than sow too early, even if seed beds are good the weather can so easily turn foul after sowing in early March. &#42