Farmer Focus: Bad decisions give blackgrass a chance

The biggest issue right now is around continued dry weather and what that is doing to yield potentials.

Our green land will again start to turn brown soon if rain remains scarce.

We have undertaken more systematic blackgrass profiling this year, which shows a mixed story – fields targeted with tailored intensive control programmes are pleasingly clean, but other fields deemed lower risk are messier.

See also: Plough, min-till and no-till compared: year one

Most disappointing are two fields drilled to wheat following two years’ ryegrass leys.

I suspect last summer’s drought is involved, which encouraged us to make hay instead of silage (giving blackgrass time to head) combined with rushed seed-bed management after the final cut.

Lessons learned and hopefully not repeated. A professional rogueing team is booked to tidy up the majority of clean fields we still have.

Critical news

I can’t remember a comparable period when UK agriculture has been buffeted by such a disheartening run of critical news stories.

Topical issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss have no end of ‘farmsplainers’ quick to collar agriculture as being villain number one.

Often unrepresentative global average figures and unreasonable timelines are used as a stick to beat us with.

Take climate change – UK agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is 10%, but energy supply and transport sectors account for more than 50%, and yet changes to farming and diets are still promoted as the primary way to reduce carbon footprints.

I would suggest firstly looking up to the aeroplane-filled skies for solutions!

Red meat has taken particular flack, but western European beef production’s carbon footprint is 2.5 times smaller than the global average.

The UK’s biodiversity status is also much more stable than charitably funded conservationists would have you believe.

Forage options

A recent visit to the Cedar dairy research unit included viewing the ‘diverse forages’ project trials.

Innovative herbal ley combinations (using herbs such as sanfoin, plantain and lucerne) can reduce fertiliser requirements, improve drought tolerance, boost sward protein, aid drainage, boost biodiversity and even provide anthelmintic properties (so artificial wormers can be avoided).

I will be looking hard at these attractive alternatives to our Italian rye grass leys.

David Butler farms just south of Marlborough in Wiltshire in partnership with his parents. He also runs a contracting company and farms about 870ha of combinable crops alongside a herd of 280 dairy cows.