Farmer Focus: Testing times in a difficult spring

Well, what a difficult spring! I knew that with 700 acres (283ha) to drill we would be up against it. We have had a number of scenarios to try to see what worked best on our heavy clay land.

Ground for spring drilling was prepared last August in a number of ways – shallow cultivation, subsoiler and press, ploughing and shallow cultivation with cover crop.

I considered all our land to be in reasonably good condition at the time. The driest fields this spring are those that were subsoiled and pressed, followed by ploughing then shallow tillage, with the cover-cropped land being the wettest and most difficult to drill.

See also: Read more from our arable Farmer Focus writers

We have tried both a Weaving GD drill and a Vaderstad Rapid in a direct-drilling scenario, so it will be interesting to see how those crops progress. But I am not really comfortable with spring drilling at all. We have drilled at every opportunity we have had since the end of February and still have 100 acres left to drill at the time of writing.

With the weather being poor and soil temperatures low, crop growth has slowed, with T0 nearly two weeks behind previous years. Our oilseed rape is going very slowly through stem extension, so what looked like being an early spring is in danger of becoming a late one.

Bazooka hybrid winter barley is fast becoming my favourite crop this year. Disease levels are very low and growth – although slowed by temperature – is still fairly impressive. The only worry is some plants are carrying huge tiller numbers, so we will have to keep a keen eye on it.

I would like to thank Agrii and Peter Cartwright, the farm manager of Revesby Estate, for hosting a brilliant day at Revesby in Lincolnshire on direct drills and cover crops. All the main manufacturers had their latest drills on show, with a mixture of disc and tined variations – not to mention grain and fertiliser options along with micronutrient applicators.

The cover crop trials were interesting and the take-home message was drill them early on heavy land – a common theme on heavy land whatever you’re doing.


Keith Challen manages 1,200ha of heavy clay soils in the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire, for Belvoir Fruit Farms. Cropping includes wheat, oilseed rape and elderflowers. The farm is also home to the Belvoir Fruit Farms drinks business

NOVEMBER
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