15 August 1997

Variety choice can be crucial

Early wheat drilling has been an integral part of farm policy for the past three seasons at Salle Park Estate, Reepham, Norfolk. However, a switch in variety has caused problems this year.

Manager Poul Hoveson has to drill 750ha of wheat and 225ha of barley in the autumn. His highest yields and margins come from crops drilled when fields are fit – mauling seed in can reduce yields by up to 3t/ha, he maintains.

"Early drilling gives you a much better chance of getting more of the farm drilled to give optimum yield. You lose that chance in later, wet conditions."

He aims for a firm but uncompacted seed-bed to promote rapid germination and establishment. Bringing the drilling window forward – Mr Hoveson is prepared to start on Sep 1 if conditions permit – allows him to do that and still finish drilling all cereals, apart from those following sugar beet, by the end of October.

Brigadier has been Mr Hovesons favoured variety, producing yields of 9-10t/ha. Last season, Reaper was the only one he could source for early September drilling.

Despite low seed rates – Mr Hoveson starts at about 100kg/ha in the first week of September, rising by 25kg/week to the end of the month – lodging was widespread in the variety, with some fields 90% down. That, and prolonged wet weather during flowering has cut output by 1t/ha below expectations, with the worst fields giving 7.5t/ha.

"Reaper is not a variety I would choose to drill early again," says Mr Hoveson. "Provided I can get the seed and it yields well this year, I shall switch back to Brigadier."

An early start allows Poul Hoveson to drill when fields are fit. That has boosted yields for the past three years at Salle Park Estates, Norfolk.