West: A tale of two harvests

Harvest 2014 produced some record yields on many local farms. This was particularly welcome after two difficult seasons. Many fields of  wheat produced 10t/ha and over – aided by the good growing conditions. Crops of winter oilseed rape yielded between 3.5 and 4t/ha and even the beans yielded well.

However, it was a tale of two harvests as some land produced much more modest yields. The lower yielding areas had various soil related problems, such as  poor soil structure and drainage and inadequate nutrient levels. In some cases yields were reduced by sub-optimal fungicide applications. Wheat crops were very responsive to the new SDHI chemistry this year, and we expect to see massive yield responses when 2014 harvest fungicide trials are reported.

Oilseed rape plantings are reduced this autumn with gross margin prospects looking poorer. Rape crops have been struggling to establish with dry seed-beds, but recent rainfall has been most welcome. Sowing techniques that place seed at an even depth into moist, tilled soils have given good results. There has been a swing towards higher seed rates – with new conventional varieties now yielding on a par with hybrids. Very few crops look too thick at present.

Slugs have been less of a problem with the drier soils, and flea beetle has not yet been the massive threat we feared. DAP fertilizer applied at drilling has aided crop emergence. Metazachlor herbicide treatments are now being made as soon as crops have enough emerged seedlings to produce a viable crop. Oilseed rape has become a very costly crop to grow, and it is essential to have a viable stand before committing to the spend.

Wheat sowing has started and, hopefully, just on fields where blackgrass levels are low. As usual, blackgrass has been slow to chit, but recent rain will help. We were lucky not to have to destroy any crops smothered by blackgrass as others did last year  – and we don’t want to have to do this next year. This means some difficult conversations about how soon to start drilling wheat where blackgrass is a problem.

We plan to stack pre-emergence herbicides on wheat to increase blackgrass control. But even the most expensive four or five way stacks will only give partial – maybe 80 % – control at massive cost. We now need well over 90% control to stand still with non- inversion techniques. It used to be so much easier and cheaper in the days of straw burning and isoproturon (IPU).

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