Ingenuity stifles arable weed control headache

The compulsory field margins imposed by the single farm payment have created weed control headaches for growers.

A number of farmers and engineers have developed grass establishment techniques to counter the weed threat to arable crops.

The introduction of cross-compliance regulations brought with it a requirement for farmers to leave a 2m margin from the centre of each hedge.

In addition, those that have chosen to join the Entry Level Scheme – ELS – have the option of using 2m, 4m or 6m strips to help score the points they require.

These environmental schemes stipulate that a green cover crop must be established on these margins (with the exception of cultivated margins) with a preference towards natural regeneration.

However this is not without its problems; allowing the existing plant population to regenerate gives the opportunity for a weed bank to establish itself with obvious consequences for the adjacent crop.

James Gillies from specialist Oxon-based environmental contractor ValeAg believes there is a good argument for sowing a grass crop on these strips.

“Weed control in arable and grass crops is becoming increasingly challenging with both financial and resistance pressures,” he says.

“Establishing a good crop of grass will help to prevent weeds such as bromes, blackgrass and cleavers encroaching on margins and spreading into the crop.”

Mr Gillies has developed a quad-pulled tine-harrow/seeder especially for this purpose.

Essentially a trailed Einbock unit adapted by ATV equipment specialist Logic, it is fitted with a Stocks seeder unit with electronic metering and a radar speed sensor.

Covering a 2m width, outlets can be blocked off to seed 0.5m, 1m and 1.5m strips dependant on the area that the hedge already covers.

“I know that some farmers have spun grass onto these strips using a shrouded broadcaster and worked it in afterwards,” points out Mr Gillies.

“However as a contractor working to ensure our clients meet all cross-compliance and stewardship requirements, we need a specific implement for the job.

It is also versatile and accurate enough to be used to seed horse paddocks.”

There are a number of other options available to establish grass margins.

Horstine Farmery has developed a straightforward ground-wheel driven unit that spreads seed in four bands to cover a bout of up to 3m.

With a 100-litre hopper, it costs 1450.