Farmer Focus: Conserving moisture could be key this season

It has been a testing couple of months. Luckily, April usually delivers, and before long we’ll all have forgotten the mud, water and more mud, hedgerows will be bursting with shades of green, oilseed rape fields will be in full flower and everything will seem better in the sunshine.

In 2016 I didn’t really start the bulk of spring drilling until 7 April, and didn’t finish until 7 May because it was a wet spring; so I’m quietly confident that later drilling isn’t the end of the world.

Hopefully by then soils are warm and crops grow fast. It seems a crazy thing to say currently, but moisture conservation, rather than drying out the seed-bed when we finally get drilling, could be the most important thing we do this spring. The pessimist in me says we’ll have a hosepipe ban by July.

See also: Late drilling of pulses may result in reduced insect damage

Save the birds

The ditching work has certainly proven its worth in the past few weeks. Drain outfalls that were previously buried have been running non-stop.

Unfortunately, it still hasn’t been enough to stop water standing in some places, but areas that were waterlogged before are considerably better than they were before.

Recent focus has been looking at a countryside stewardship scheme application for next year.

The farm is located in an area where we should see six target farmland bird species – yellow wagtail, grey partridge, turtle doves, lapwing, tree sparrow and corn bunting – so the scheme design will focus on providing for these. 

To give a rough indicator of how successful the scheme is, I plan to undertake the farmland bird count each year.

The challenge will be to build the right stewardship options into a scheme that integrates into the current farming business, rather than negatively affect farming operation.

From a farming point of view, I will enjoy not having to drill, cultivate or spray around the majority of my telegraph poles or in the awkward field corners!

Matt Redman operates a farming and agricultural contracting business specialising in crop spraying, Avadex application and direct drilling in Bedfordshire. He also grows cereals on a small area of tenancy land and was Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year in 2014.

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