Archive Article: 2000/02/11

11 February 2000

Justin Blackwood

Justin Blackwood farms

770ha (1900 acres) from

Grange Farm, Great

Brington, Northants, on a

range of farming

agreements. Cropping

hinges around winter wheat,

plus winter barley, rape,

peas, oats and occasionally


GROUND conditions improved in January with less than 25mm (1in) of rain in the month. Crops have taken on a far healthier appearance and the ducks have had to go back to the pond to find somewhere to paddle.

Our liquid nitrogen tanks are full, ready to start top-dressing oilseed rape with about 87 kg/ha (70 units/acre) from the second week of February. We tried drilling spring beans with the Simba Free Flow last week, mainly to get it calibrated and iron out any potential problems. Although the ground had become quite dry on top, in general it is still too wet underneath. Recent light showers have prevented any further attempts.

Late January or early February may seem early to consider doing field work. But if one holds back a wet February could take you into mid-March with a mountain of work in front of you.

There is no doubt next autumn we will have to do a little more soil loosening. Ideally, if we cultivate and drill early when ground conditions are at their best, there should be little need for deep soil movement or moling bar occasional headlands and tramlines. But for a year or two we will have to do considerably more busting to correct some present problems.

To correctly identify these problem areas without endless digging I am taking to the air armed with a digital camera and a conventional camera loaded with infrared film. Taking pictures directly overhead of about 10ha (25 acres) during the early rapid growth period in spring, usually mid-March for oilseed rape and late-March to early-April for cereals, crop vigour can be easily assessed. Infra-red photography is particularly good as it picks out chlorophyll levels more accurately.

There will always be differences in crop appearance on different soil types and north facing fields, especially during the early spring growth stage. But areas of slow growth due to compacted ground, shallow roots, and retained water can be identified and used to plan an autumn cultivation programme.

Justin Blackwood is planning to take to the skies over Northants this spring – to take a closer look at his soils.

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