Farmer Focus Arable: Delaying clover sowing proved the right decision for Andrew Charlton

My decision to suspend drilling of red clover until the arrival of rain has turned out to be among my wiser decisions as, once again, April turned out to be a very dry month.



Clover seed is tiny; in fact it looks similar to grains of sand, and has no great tolerance of adverse conditions post drilling – either too wet or too dry. In addition to seeding into a conventional seed-bed, I have also completed undersowing clover into spring barley. Undersowing in organic crops is a precise art requiring a judgement of crop growth stage against weed growth because, of course, it represents the last opportunity to comb harrow weeds in the crop as any later passes will take out the emerging clover seedlings.


I’m also beginning to appreciate that it takes some post-harvest management as well because last year I chopped the straw when the barley was harvested, and consequently, some patches where the chopped straw laid thicker on the headlands are a bit patchy due to a mulching effect in an otherwise pretty good stand of clover. I think undersowing is worth persevering with first because of the savings in diesel in first not having to cultivate ground for an extra time and, second, the additional spring growth that is achieved from a crop well established the year before.


The last of the 2009 cereal harvest should have disappeared up the road before the end of the month. I wonder if I’m alone in thinking that the “just in time” requirement for loading by hauliers is starting to get stretched a little every year, particularly where the end user arranges their own collection. The last lorry we loaded was eight days late against the date notified by the customer and I was given one hours’ notice of its arrival. It was loaded OK, but I think even the most modern car factories would struggle to achieve just-in-time performance to that level.


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