Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Seems as though we live in changing times – "always been the way" I hear you say – but one thing starting to worry me is the weather.

Even I, as a staunch supporter of the "blip in the climate, often happens if you look back in history" principle, am having trouble staving off the fans of the "climates changing due to lack of trees and noxious emissions from American industry, Chinese fridges and French diesel cars" camp.

Our nice unpredictable northern hemisphere climate is not only becoming drier, but more extreme. Prolonged periods of drought, or rain, or cold seem to be more and more accentuated and long.

Oilseed rapes are very variable and can be divided into those planted before the 15mm of rain that fell on 30 August, and those planted after. As I predicted last month, those that were planted into the dust and clods have a good crop and those that didnt dont.

Quite unusually, we have been obliged to target an insecticide at aphids this year; the more common pests being cabbage stem flea beetles and rape winter stem weevils – a particularly dangerous insect. Treating these two pests generally mops up any aphids but this autumns climate has increased populations. The worry, of course, is the spread of virus.

Again, the virus risk is high in the winter barleys this year, so we are very pleased that we used Gaucho-treated seed. Our current workload is intense and not having to worrying about aphids lightens the load. The cost of Gaucho (imidacloprid) is high so, on the consultancy side, I have many clients who dont need to use Gaucho as their systems permit spraying and they can benefit from a substantial reduction in input costs.

Wheat planting is slow due to the dry conditions producing poor seed beds, and to the need for more preparatory work. Wear rates are drastic where we are plough/planting and even in minimal tillage situations, the Lemken Smarags are taking a beating. The Moore/Sulky uni-drill is again proving its worth in being able to plant cheaply behind rape, peas and maize following a spray treatment with glyphosate to take out volunteers.

What are we going to do when we can no longer kill volunteers of Roundup Ready rape with glyphosate?!

Variety choice has been influenced somewhat by the availability of seed. This has created a crisis in some areas. We are informed that the wet and cool June-July weather led to poor quality seed with low germinations and high levels of fusarium. Sure, this was a factor, but the real problem was already in place – lack of area in seed contracts and poor choice of varieties by the seed producers.

The lack of seed contracts is due to low seed premiums being offered to farmers, and compounded by increased sales of certified seed. This is mainly due to hi-tech seed dressings such as Gaucho and Austral Plus (tefluthrin + fludioxonil) which are not authorised for on-farm seed treatment.

For our choice of milling varieties – 70% of our land in La Beauce and 50% in other areas – we are growing Rialto, Altria, Sidéral, Texel, Criterium and Aztec, with smaller areas of Charger, Bourbon, Somme and Soissons (which although still the reference variety for millers is now unable to compete in terms of yield). On the feed wheat side we are sticking with Trémie and Oracle, both very high yielders south of Paris.

Maize harvest is finished and produced some excellent results despite early fears. Not only are yields better than expected at around 12t/ha for irrigated crops, and 9t/ha for non-irrigated ones. Moisture content at harvest was lower than normal; in some cases down to 25% – the norm is 35% so the savings in drying costs are substantial. The price, however, is lower than last year at around 740FF/ton (820FF for the same period in 1996).

Sugar beet lifting is in full swing. The second lift is finished, and the remaining third coming out of the ground between 4 and 10 November. This last lot will have to be stored on-farm for around two weeks but should be collected before the beginning of December.

Yields are looking good with an even root size coupled with reasonable sugar levels (18-19%). We should average 80t/ha (at 16%) on the irrigated land and 55t on the non-irrigated sandy loam.

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