Farmer Focus : Andrew Peddie 12/11/04

MORE RAIN means the weather continues to dominate our thoughts. Our local weather station recorded about 160mm of rainfall for October, the wettest for 100 years. Still, August was the wettest for 1000 years, so things are improving!

All the winter barley was in by the second week in October and is slowly greening up, but we are struggling with wheat sowing. Only a quarter of the planned area has been sown. Winter wheat made about £50/acre (£20/ha) more margin than spring sown malting barley last harvest, so it is important to get some of the remaining 200 acres (80ha) sown. Ground conditions are vital for late sowings, so we will have to be patient and hope for good weather before the end of the year to get the job done.

We are into our second year farming in a nitrate vulnerable zone, and already the goalposts seem to be moving. It is common practice in the east of Scotland to apply some inorganic N fertiliser to winter barley, during the NVZ closed period, to maximise root development and maintain optimum tiller numbers through the winter. Anecdotal evidence suggests this application is essential to achieve the high yields possible in this area.

SEERAD seems to be disputing this with some growers and has issued fairly prescriptive agronomic justifications for applications during the closed period. There is a very important principle at stake. NVZs are designed to protect the environment, not to be a financial noose on producers. If there is good science to show autumn N applications to Scottish winter barley crops do not give a profitable response I hope they will share it with cereal growers and their advisers.

Farmers are continually being urged to compete in the world market-place, but they can only do this if the regulatory framework in which they operate is based on best science available.