FARMER FOCUS: Giving direct drilling a go this spring

Well at least we’ve done something on the fields, namely a bit of cultivating and applying urea to diminutive oilseed rape crops, writes Andy Barr.

I’ll try some direct drilling this spring, but with no previous experience of the technique at this time of year and output already looking a little down, I am reluctant to do a lot. Especially on rather damp, slumped soils.

Of course, cultivating also helps dry soil out a lot quicker and although I appreciate the argument that if it’s too wet to drill, perhaps it’s too wet to cultivate, I like the fact that it works. It was interesting to find out that the French have actually tested the theory that the soil warms up more quickly this way, and found it not to be the case. It is nitrogen mineralisation that gets crops away quicker, so another way is to just apply more nitrogen earlier.

The imminent Biodiversity, Agriculture, Soil and Environment (BASE) UK meeting has some interesting speakers if you are into the reduced tillage/cover cropping thing and “mob grazing of cattle as an arable break” caught my eye. We may try the sheep alternative, “cell grazing”, which reminds me of fun times in my childhood searching for uneaten swedes on the fold, although the present lamb price may affect this.

There may be other unmeasured benefits and I am carrying out a LEAF audit which directed me to an interesting resource on attaching a monetary value to “eco-system services”. I can see the advantages, but it did make me wonder what kind of society we have developed when we need to measure everything in money. When I suggested to my wife I could value her services she didn’t take long to give me a rough idea of how she valued mine. I think I’ll leave that one.

Andy Barr farms 630ha on a mixed family farm in mid-Kent, including 430ha mainly of winter wheat, oilseed rape and spring barley. The rest is taken up by an OELS scheme and grazing for 500 Romney ewes and 40 Sussex cattle.

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