Farmer Focus: Should I be braver with wheat drilling date?

Harvest has been a difficult one for many reasons, but we got there in the end, with everything cut dry, and overall yields have been pleasing.

To make things easier next year, from a storage and movement point of view, I have switched to mostly Group 4 feed varieties. Skyscraper is making up most of the area, along with some Spotlight and enough Gravity to, hopefully, fill a separate store.

I have also managed to get some Extase seed to see how it performs. Barrel and Zyatt have been dropped and the area of Skyfall reduced to land where it has more potential to hit milling specification.

See also: Advice on minimising the damage from BYDV in cereals

Most of the oilseed rape is looking good, with minimal flea beetle damage in both the OSR only, drilled at the beginning of August, and oilseed rape with buckwheat, clover and phacelia drilled in mid-August.

However, the couple of fields drilled at the very end of August aren’t looking very special. They were drilled into drier seed-beds and have struggled to get going, with flea beetle causing quite a bit of damage to the few plants that have emerged.

Before I drilled any OSR, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to spray insecticides for flea beetle due to the levels of known resistance and the likely damage to beneficial insects being higher than control of the beetle.

So far I’m happy with the decision – spraying may have marginally helped the late drilled crop, but I think the dry conditions are the biggest factor in how it looks at present.

This year has proved to me that we need to be able to place fertiliser with the drill. Both spring crops and OSR have benefitted from having di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) placed close to the seed when using the Dale drill and have saved an additional pass with a fertiliser spinner that is nowhere near as accurate as a drill.

As a result, the John Deere 750a will be receiving some attention over winter so that solid DAP can be placed with it.

The annual game of “how brave can I be”  has now started with autumn cereal drilling. Delayed drilling will be an important cultural control method here again this year, especially with how dry it has been and given the lack of volunteer and blackgrass germination in stale seed-beds so far.

I set myself an earliest start date of 15 October before harvest. I am now wondering if I need to be braver?

Matt Redman operates a farming and agricultural contracting business specialising in crop spraying, Avadex application and direct drilling in Bedfordshire. He also grows cereals on a small area of tenancy land and was Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year in 2014.