9 August 2002

Ultra-light land gains protection from hybrid rye

STUART Webbs blow-away soils at Beck Row near Milden-hall, Suffolk, give new meaning to the term light.

Handled incorrectly the running sands could end up with his neighbours, so Mr Webb is keen for a quick turn round between crops to establish cover and prevent soil loss.

With little available soil moisture in the growing season, he also needs crops that can cope with drought or which suit irrigation.

As a result rye, on contract to John King & Sons, is the main cereal on his 120ha (300 acre) Wilde Street Farm.

Mr Webb usually grows three crops of rye before sugar beet or potatoes. Yield target is 5-6t/ha (2-2.5t/acre) though new hybrids have done 7.4t/ha (3t/acre). Much depends on spring and summer rainfall. After the dry April, Mays wet spell was particularly welcome for this years variety, Esprit.

"The hybrids appear to hold on well and have longer ears," says Mr Webb. "The straw is a lot shorter, they stand better and are less liable to lodge."

Good establishment

In the past he drilled at 150kg/ha (1.25cwt/acre) – now about 100kg/ha is the norm. "We like to get on as soon as possible to ensure good establishment – after another rye crop this is normally in late September or early October.

A little nitrogen through autumn-applied 4:16:32 compound fertiliser ensures rapid establishment.

In autumn, Stomp (pendimethalin) herbicide plus Toppel (cypermethrin) aphicide is applied on the advice of Hutchinson agronomist Ian Cook.

The land is highly susceptible to deficiencies, so a manganese spray is a must in the spring. This year the sole treatment was a cocktail also including Quantum DF (tribenuron-methyl) for broad-leaved weeds, two growth regulators, the fungicide Mastiff (kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph) and adjuvant Torpedo-II.

"We have seen mildew and brown rust in the past, but Mastiff, which replaced Corbel this year, seems to have done a good job," says Mr Webb.

"We try to keep the number of spring sprays to just one reducing costs as far as possible. Weve never needed an ear-wash." Lodging is rarely a problem.

In total 250kg/ha (200 units/acre) of N is applied in two equal splits at the start of March and beginning of April.

The rye ripens about the second week of August, before wheat. Preserving Hagberg is important to meet the contract, he notes.

"With the old varieties we used to get quite a variation in yield – as low as 1t/acre one year, then 30cwt/acre the next. Now 2t/acre is the norm and crops are more consistent. &#42