Farmer Focus: Forced crop change sees return of the plough

Progress with field work has been very slow over the past month, cropping has now been switched around to include spring beans, more spring wheat and spring barley.

I’ll still try to drill Skyfall winter wheat up to the end of February, but only if conditions are reasonable.

It has been a tough slog to get anything drilled this year and I don’t see the point of putting all the work into getting a failed, or half crop when we still have the spring option.

It would only destroy the good blackgrass control I have achieved in the past two years, and cause damage to the soil that will be slow and expensive to repair.

See also: How catch crops cut one grower’s costs and improved soils

Rightly or wrongly, however, with the forced change in cropping, I’ve made the decision to plough some ground for a few reasons. Firstly I think spring beans need some soil movement.

Ploughing is probably excessive, but the only option in current conditions, and it will also mean I have different options and seed-beds to contend with whatever weather we get in the spring.

If it’s dry I’ll regret it, but if it stays wet there’s every chance we won’t be able to get direct drilling in good conditions until April, as happened in 2018, and the ploughed ground may allow me to get on sooner.

It also gives me flexibility in drill choice, and flexibility to be drilling in three places at once, rather than having to rely on the John Deere or Dale direct drills that are likely to be rather busy.

Although, having said that about ploughing, the driest fields on the farm currently are those that have been direct drilled for two years, and have a cover crop growing on them.

I now wish I’d left more fields as stubble rather than scratch cultivating them to 5cm as these have now turned to a sticky mess on top, although at the time I’m sure it was the best option to help get them level and ready to direct drill next year.

Yesterday was a big day that, whichever way it has gone, will undoubtedly bring some big changes to farming over the next few years. The big question is will they be doom and gloom changes, or opportunities?


Matt Redman farms 370ha just north of Cambridge and operates a contracting business specialising in spraying and direct drilling. He also grows cereals on a small area of tenancy land and was Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year in 2014. Read more from Matt Redman.