26 March 1999

Weathers a bright spot

WE have had a better week than I had dared hope for, certainly the prospects seven days ago were not good.

By Sun, Mar 14, we were basking in spring sunshine, which only got better as the week progressed.

To date we have applied 95kg/ha (76 units/acre) of nitrogen as a first dressing to all the early sown wheat in the form of liquid ammonium sulphate. That was completed by Mar 16 by our sandwich year student Richard Smith using the 2000L Chafer Pathfinder sprayer equipped with stream jets.

That will be repeated on the first week of April and topped up with the third and final dose by the third week of next month.

The milling wheat – Abbot and Malacca – have now been sprayed twice with plant growth regulator and part over-sprayed with herbicide to control weeds inherited from previous years when fields were in set-aside and sown with wild flowers.

The winter barley has had two shots of nitrogen applied on Feb 24 and Mar 14 to total 116kgN/ha (93 units/acre) in the form of prilled urea. Being Maris Otter malting barley we have tried to gauge the correct amount to achieve a low-grain nitrogen content without jeopardising yield too much.

That compares with a similar amount applied last year when grain nitrogen levels were disappointing. The 1998 crop followed winter linseed and a dry winter compared to this year, where barley follows wheat as a second white straw crop and winter rainfall measured 51.7mm more than the previous year (see table).

The 40-year mean recorded at Wittering is 238.5mm for the five months Oct-Feb compared with 1998/99 of 299.9mm.

Before I am accused of whingeing by John Wilson, a regular reader who farms 10 miles south of Ayr, I should mention that our rainfall, even in a wet time, is but a shower compared to the west of Scotland!

Mr Wilson took the trouble to fax me his rainfall figures after our comments (On Our Farms, Jan 1999). His annual rainfall for 1998 was 1433mm and during a 14-week period between Oct 9, 98 and Jan 19, 99 he measured 651mm. His kind invitation to change places for six months has been declined!

The oilseed rape, Apex and Madrigal, has also had two applications of nitrogen applied as urea. Like the winter barley the first dose of 63kgN/ha (50 units/acre) was applied on the third week of February and the second in mid-March. The total applied to date is 162kgN/ha (130 units/ acre) leaving 38kgN/ha (30 units/ acre) to apply at the late green bud stage or at least as late as practicably possible without causing crop damage.

Oliver winter linseed has had a first nitrogen of 66kgN/ha (53 units/acre) applied as urea in mid-March with a top-up to follow next month. The linseed does not look so good this year; we have had repeated problems with slugs taking out the growing points and the weed burden has reached suffocating proportions and has required a treatment of metsulfuron-methyl (Ally).

The perennial ryegrass, grown as a seed crop for Advanta, is a new variety to us called Mongita. This has received two herbicide treatments this year, firstly propaquizafop (Falcon) to control barley volunteers and a tank-mix four weeks later of mecaprop-P and mcpa for broad-leaved weed control.

Nitrogen on this crop has been supplied totally by pig slurry to date which has, unfortunately, created a number of deep wheelings through the winter which we shall endeavour to roll out using a heavy Kidd flat roll.

On the pea front, we have sprayed off the land with glyphosate to burn off germinated weed growth and applied muriate of potash at 44kgK/ha. Some of the land has still to be ploughed after stubble turnips, this will be worked down in front of the drill, the second field was worked down with a power-harrow and rolled last autumn and will require moving when conditions have dried out a little.

Due to extremely adverse conditions last Dec we made the decision to pull the drill out of the field that had been sowing Abbot wheat after sugar beet. This land will now be drilled with Riviera spring barley and, like the pea ground, will be moved and drilled in the next day or two.

The sugar beet seed has arrived which can cause hasty decisions to be made, especially if ones neighbours are forging ahead with their drilling. But we shall resist the temptation until the end of the month in the knowledge that we can get on with our own six-row drill when conditions are ideal and not be too concerned if that is the first week of April. We do not seem to incur a yield penalty by April drilling provided seedbeds are good; better to sow late in good conditions than early in bad. &#42

Easton Lodge winter rainfall

98/99 97/98 96/97 40 year mean

Oct 86.2 50.2 46.1 47.6

Nov 38.6 73.3 82.7 51.8

Dec 58.6 52.8 50.5 52.1

Jan 80.9 65.5 20.4 50.7

Feb 35.6 6.4 46.0 36.3

Total 299.9 248.2 245.7 238.5