Farmer Focus: On-farm trials help to optimise margins

As we approach the bulk of harvest, the time will come for us to quantify our on-farm trials.

We feel these trials are a must if we want to test our boundaries and keep pushing forward – even if it’s just one small split field trial a year.

Over the past few years, we have focused on optimising spring barley nitrogen rates without compromising yield or quality.

Historically, we have always struggled to keep below the 1.85% N specification with our normal 140kg/ha rate.

Last season, we split the fields into 140kg/ha and 90kg/ha applications.

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Richard Harris
Richard Harris manages his family farm in partnership with his father in south Devon. Growing wheat, barley, linseed, grass and cover crops, with a small pick-your-own pumpkin patch.
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See also: Farmer Focus: Am I paying for not spraying with pesticides?

We saw grain nitrogen drop to 1.67% in the lower dose without compromising yield. This is something we will now replicate across the spring barley acreage, grain yield dependent.

We’ve looked at liquid potash at the T2 timing in barley and oats, aiming to maximise specific weights, which can be challenging, especially in oats.

Field sample results indicated specific weight increased by 1.2kg/hl in winter barley and 1.3kg/hl in spring oats, with no difference in spring barley.

These trials are by no means replicated, with field-by-field variation, but it gives something to work with. Like with a lot of farming, gut feel can be as good an indicator as anything.

This season’s trials focused on winter wheat, comparing single varieties against a blend. I have a feeling varieties perform very differently in a no-till and conventional system.

Graham, Gleam and Costello were all sown as straights in different fields, with a blend of the three plus Extase sown in another two.

Monitoring throughout the growing season highlighted little difference in  disease pressure between the range of varieties up to growth stage 39.

However, the rain storms in June then dramatically increased disease build-up, with visual differences displayed by the end of the month.

Combine yield maps and grain samples should, hopefully, help us quantify any differences.

We also did a split-field grazing trial, introducing sheep into half of a field, to graze out diseased leaves, reducing the inoculum and, therefore, disease pressure.

We were late putting the sheep in, and I think we are likely to see a yield dip rather than increase in this trial.

At least we’ll know what not to do for next year.

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