12 May 1995

Too cold for a good start

THE rain has beaten us again – at least for the time being. We normally aim to sow all our maize before May 1 but that has not happened this year.

However I do not believe we have lost much time because it has been too cold for crops to make a good start. All the maize land is ploughed, worked and sown on contract. Without using contractors, timeliness would be compromised because at this time of year we are still busy with lambing.

The soil at Vimer contains a high proportion of flints. What they do to ploughs and tyres defies belief. This years contract price was agreed at £119/ha (£48/acre), which is about a third higher than last year. But the contractor has subsequently ceased trading.

The usual rate for ploughing our type of land is £75/ha (£30/acre) but there are not many volunteers to take on the job. Our rule is that the contractor who ploughs is the one that harvests; this helps to soften the blow of low ploughing rates.

Remains a mystery

This years contractor often prefers to operate using sub-contractors using mainly farmers from bigger arable farms who are keen to justify the cost of expensive machines. It remains a mystery why so many need such big machines on relatively small acreages.

The man ploughing at Vimer this year comes from much kinder ground. I believe my contractor forgot to warn him about our strong land. After only 8ha (20 acres), he has changed more plough parts than on all the 200ha (500 acres) he farms at home.

Rain is helpful because it lubricates the soil and eases wear. In dry conditions you can hear the plough disintegrating, but at present, our land is a mud bath so his six-furrow Gregoire-Bessin plough is sitting idle in our yard. Two fields remain to be ploughed, one after an Italian ryegrass catch crop following maize last year and the other is our only stone-free field.

Catch-cropped Italian has proved a useful extra for the cows since grass growth this spring is the slowest I have ever seen here. Our stone-free field is not without its problems. Its high clay content makes the soil soft, very quickly. Incessant rain has battered the ground this year to such an extent that this field has had to be chisel ploughed before ploughing can start.

Sprayed regardless

Fields coming out of grass (set-aside nowadays) would systematically be sprayed with Lindane for frit fly. This season every hectare will be treated regardless of the threat. Our applying cereal group adviser recommends applying Lindane every three years, even under continuous maize, at 2 litres/ha. After all the recent mild weather, as a precaution, we will be reducing the seed rate to 8kgs/ha at a cost of 1.48p per kg.

Unfortunately, the drill available this year is not equipped to place fertiliser otherwise we would have used 150kgs/ha (120 units/acre) of di-ammonium phosphate. Ive asked the contractor to find a suitable drill for next year. DAP provides a big benefit – even considering our good soil status from spreading milk residues from a local factory.

The pre-drilling spray will be a tank-mix of Lindane at 2 litres/ha, atrazine at 1.5 litres and Mercantor at 3 litres/ha. Thats designed to control cockspur or barnyard millet which grows in every field along with yellow bristle grass (setaria glauca). They arrived originally on a contractors silage machine.

Different varieties

This year we chose a range of similar maturing maize varieties including Zentis, Jericho, Pongo and Rival. Different years suit different varieties so we never rely solely on one variety.

Our carry-over of maize silage is dwindling fast because the cows still need some dry matter back up with the wet weather. Rather than grow a very early variety (usually Browning 180) we will rely on making quality grass silage to start off autumn milk production.

As the contractor keeps busy with maize, we will cultivate a grazed rye stubble which has been bared off using sheep. Although I planned a spring reseed, the field is full of germinating sow thistles. So now we will put in a cleaning crop of stubble turnips after a stale seedbed. All this will be without conventional ploughing because the soil is too thin and precious topsoil would be lost.

My friendly bank manager popped in recently with a renewal form for a saving scheme for a potential mortgage facility. Money invested is used as a guarantee for loans. He also reminded me not to exceed my overdraft limit because unauthorised borrowings are charged at an interest rate of 14.75% compared with the normal 9.25%. The current standard lending rate is 8.8%.

Gone are the days of relatively easy financing. Bank managers have become much more hard bitten and, dare I say, realistic. &#42

The threat of frit fly after grass will lead Tim Green to put the sprayer to good use.