South: Easy harvest lifts the collective agricultural spirit

Harvest has been a mixed bag this year. Crops over chalk or free draining soils with body have had a good, if not exceptional year. Anything that was low lying, or very heavy waterlogged in the winter, and anything over gravel or brash that got singed away in the June heat wave, has not done so well. But everybody, wherever they farm, if asked back in April whether they would accept the final yields they achieved, would have said a resounding “YES”. Another fact of agricultural life is that almost regardless of yields, a dry, cheap, easy, consolidated harvest lifts the collective agricultural spirit into a wonderful mood that becomes contagious.

So. On to next year. I have made a resolution that I am NOT going to learn anything from last year on the grounds that we couldn’t possibly have another season like it. Already things are hugely different. Seed quality is back to its normal vigour. The rain that has just arrived is falling onto bone-dry, well cracked soils, not waterlogged, slumped bogs. Slugs have not had the conditions to procreate and egg numbers must be a fraction of what they were this time last year. To that end, as an industry, we must make every effort that we don’t chuck pellets about willy-nilly in reaction to last year’s epidemic.

Oilseed rape has been drilled well on time, but the dry weather has effectively delayed its drilling date by two to three weeks. I don’t normally bother with autumn nitrogen on early (mid-August) drilled rape, but this year, with the delay in germination and huge amounts of as-yet unbroken-down straw, I am generally recommending a little autumn help (subject to NVZ rules blah blah blah….).

For the past ten years nearly every hectare of winter cereals I have been involved with has been treated with an insecticide seed treatment. Apart from its massive help as a management tool, I see it as a hugely environmentally favourable way of putting an active ingredient exactly, and only, where it’s needed. This year, as a result of supply problems, I will undoubtedly have some untreated fields. Two months back we saw unprecedented levels of aphids in vegetable crops. That’s something I will need to be on the lookout for that I didn’t have to worry about this time last year.

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