Farmer Focus: Environment Agency letter creates concern

What a fantastic run of weather. We managed to get all the spring wheat planted into good seed-beds and are up to date with fertilising and spraying.

There was some aggressive brown rust in the Bazooka barley, but the frost seems to have put that on hold.

We will start the first fungicide on the winter barley shortly, based on prothioconazole and trace elements.

See also: 7 steps to adopt a biological-based system on arable farms

When we had cattle, they were always deficient in copper, cobalt and selenium. Interestingly, our Yield Enhancement Network grain results show similar deficiencies – which is  why we now add trace elements.

Disease levels in the winter wheat seem low and our T0 was going to be just a trace element, but I think this will wait to T1 (or leaf three, for those who get emotional about timing names).

We are now preparing land to plant maize, which is a new crop for us. I have had to do some serious learning and want to thank everyone who has shown me the way.

I always love the fact that everyone will give you one masterful bit of information.

Farmyard manure was spread on the maize land, although I am not a great fan of spreading in the spring, as the machines compact the tender soils.

I was quite dismayed to get a generic letter from the Environment Agency, informing me of its Farming Rules for Water enforcement.

This in itself is great, as a few people in the industry need to clean up their act.

What did concern me, however, was the line that said: “Due to the concentration of phosphate and readily available nitrogen in sewage sludge, we consider that it should not be spread on crops during the autumn/winter.

Organic manure applications during this period are unlikely to satisfy a genuine soil and crop need.”

We are in a nitrate vulnerable zone, so we are limited anyway, but the big question is: are they saying we can’t apply anything to autumn-sown crops, with the exception of brassicas?

If so, the logistics to spread all the manures and sewage cake in the spring will require a step-change. And surely the runoff from compaction that will arise will result in more pollution?

I would rather spread in August on dry soils, cultivate and then drill later, or put in a cover crop to hold the nutrients if it’s to be spring sown.

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