18 February 2000

Wetter year just the job

THE two factors that affect our industry the most and which we find most difficult to deal with are politics and the weather.

At the moment I feel safer writing about the latter since the former and those engaged in it seem hell-bent on flushing the once proud and noble profession of agriculture down the pan.

The table shows the monthly rainfall figures at Easton Lodge for the past eight years. The mean of these figures is 653mm (25.7in). Interestingly the long term mean over a 45 year period is closer to 592mm (23.3in).

Rainfall totals for the past three years have been above average and, in fact, for 1999 eight of the 12 months produced a rainfall in excess of the monthly long-term mean.

On limited statistics it would seem that conditions are getting wetter which will suit our limestone soils.

Yield mirror

Our yield performance directly mirrors the three wetter years of 1997, 1998 and 1999. Last year was clearly the ideal with rainfall being well distributed throughout the season. Ideally, August could have been a bit drier to assist harvest, but the spring and autumn rainfall were perfect for yield promotion and seedbed preparation.

Since then, January has been and gone breaking records of a different nature. A recorded rainfall of 11.5mm (0.45in) is the driest January since 1955. Table 2 shows weather means and extremes for the past 45 years and gathers together some interesting figures.

The wettest month on record was back in June 1982 totalling 149.7mm (5.9 in). The annual total for that year was 647.1mm (25.5in) and by no means excessive. In contrast the driest month in May 1990 recorded at 1.4mm (0.05 in) fell in a year when the total was 420.1mm (16.5 in) – the driest year on record.

By comparison the year that had 79.2mm (3.1 in) of rain in one day was 1992 on the Sept 22 which became the wettest year at 857mm (33.7in).

Returning to Jan 2000, the month also broke the record for sunshine, recording double the mean sunshine hours. Sept, Oct, Nov and Dec last year were all recorded with above average sunshine totals which helps throw some light – no pun intended – on the increasing sugar contents achieved on sugar beet lifted last autumn. We, along with other A1 Farmers, experienced higher sugar percentages in second and third lifts than the first liftings in Oct which is unusual. Normally sugar contents decline and bulk increases to mid-Nov when the roots stop growing altogether, but not so last season.

Progress in 2000

What of progress so far this year? Having experienced dry, warm and near spring-like conditions just described, it is hardly surprising that the tractors were beginning to strain at the leash.

We have applied 80kg/ha of muriate of potash onto 37.51ha of ploughed land programmed for peas. This was spread using the Kuhn Aero on the Fendt 395 on Michelin M108 dual wheels. Conditions were good and dust was seen to fly in places.

The dual wheels were then discarded and the first top dressing of urea applied to 27.75ha (68.5 acres) of oilseed rape at 57kgN/ha (45units/acre) and a further 8.2ha (20.25 acres) of backward crop at 84kgN/ha (67 units/acre).

Next, when conditions allow, will be the Maris Otter malting winter barley.

The first application is programmed at 60kgN/ha (48 units/acre) followed by the balance next month.

Wheat will not get any nitrogen until after the first application of plant growth regulator that will, hopefully, be sprayed this week if it stays warm.

Cornflower control

The other spraying anticipated will be an application of clopyralid (Dow Shield) to attempt the control of cornflower and shepherds purse on 8ha (19.76 acre) of oilseed rape. Winter barley too, will need a fungicide spray when the wind stops blowing.