Farmer Focus: Busy keeping blackgrass at bay

Well, the longed-for rain did appear. The first dollop was a saviour but the second, being partnered by gale force winds, was a mixed blessing with small patches in overlaps falling over.

This included the oats that had seemed so incredibly slow to grow in the spring that I pronounced them impossible to lodge. Will I never learn?

They didn’t quite reach the height of the triticale I’m growing for the first time. It makes as good a plant stand as I have ever had on the sandstone fields, and it didn’t succumb to the gales. However, it is markedly less green and healthy looking than the oats.

See also: Read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

I have a blissful memory of a chemical company approaching me some years ago to ask if I had any blackgrass areas they could use for a trial. I replied it wasn’t really a problem. Ah, happy days.

I’m using all the tactics we hear suggested and, hopefully, we’re keeping it to non-disaster level, but it is a constant battle.

I could despair of a few points regarding the current Countryside Stewardship scheme but one good feature is a two-year grass and legume mix.

In the first of the two of these patches we are employing, we have been kept busy mowing to stop the blasted stuff seeding, but it should be worthwhile.

High seed rate

Another assault tactic was drilling spring barley at a high seed rate, but also twice at a 90deg angle, to try and avoid opportunities for the enemy between crop rows.

On the one hand, I am pleased with the competitiveness of the crop and the lack of blackgrass, but on the other there isn’t any in the thinner control area either so we’ll have to keep working on that.

I can’t help thinking spring-germinating spindly little blackgrass plants were more of an issue in the wider row wheat than the narrower, and the scientific research I have found from around the world does favour narrower rows, albeit with starting points much wider than ours.

Then again, I know people who swear by wider rows.

Andy Barr farms 700ha in a family partnership in Kent. Combinable crops amount to about 400ha and include milling wheat and malting barley in an increasingly varied rotation. He also grazes 800 Romney ewes and 40 Sussex cattle and the farm uses conservation agriculture methods.


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