Farmer Focus: Planning next year’s crop rotation

I have spent periods of the past 12 months frustrated, watching neighbours whizzing up and down, working away on their autumn-sown crops. And I am continuing the same theme, watching the sun beating down on clouds of dust created by every combine in the parish, while mine is safely sat in the shed, waiting for crops to ripen.

The oilseed rape was a pleasure to combine. The yields were excellent and for the first time in recent memory, the glyphosate had killed the plant completely, so the 1.8m-plus Excellium went through the combine without so much as a grumble.

The great thing about having a little land cleared is that the annual struggle of stale seed-beds is upon us again. We have worked the land with our subsoiler fitted with low-disturbance legs, which have done a brilliant job of relieving compaction while bringing minimal clod to the soil surface.

This was done in tandem with a double press and then rolled promptly to try to conserve moisture. All we need now is some rain to chit the seeds, although I would rather not get the remnants of Hurricane Bertha with the spring barley crop nearing maturity.

With land cleared, the next job is to sit in the office with a stiff drink and piles of marketing guff to plan next year’s rotation. I used to take this extremely seriously. Spreadsheets were produced and positives and negatives had values attributed to them to try to qualify my decisions with short-term financial return.

This painstaking process led to a 50:50 wheat-oilseed rape rotation. Hindsight has shown the error of my ways, that and blackgrass.

Last year I decided cropping would be dictated by the old-fashioned method: gut feeling. When I was happy for a crop to be drilled, it was and not a moment before.

This approach will be continued this year – some call it farming – but there are certain things to be wary of. Most importantly, it is key not to have something such as a lamb jalfrezi for supper the night before, this could play havoc with the gut meter reading.

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Will Howe farms 384ha of medium to heavy land at Ewerby Thorpe Farm, near Sleaford, Lincolnshire, growing wheat, oilseed rape and winter beans.