Invest in quality seed-beds
Pressure from grass weeds,
pests and diseases make it
more important than ever
to produce good seed-beds
this autumn. Here we relay
the timely advice of a
BE prepared to spend time and money establishing a good seed-bed this season.
Severe slug, blackgrass and disease pressure all mean it will pay to do the job right, says one Midlands-based consultant.
Missing out a pass at the seed-bed stage is often a false economy, warns Bill Barr, senior arable consultant with Axient. "The best way to reduce costs is to grow more tonnes. And spending an extra £5-£10 per acre on seed-bed preparation is one of the more sensible investments.
"In a good year, wheat crops might not need a perfect seed-bed to grow away. But in a difficult or wet year it is often the difference between success and failure."
Low seed rates and early drill-ing also need approaching with care. Soil type and structure, weed and pest problems, previous herbicide use and the availability of machinery all need considering before starting cultivations, he advises.
"Even though it is expensive, ploughing does result in better seed-beds, particularly on heavy land. And in a year when slugs are bound to cause problems it helps get rid of the trash and bury some of the eggs.
"It also helps with blackgrass control and reduces weed pressure. Early ploughing, followed by pressing is ideal, as growers can then walk away for 3-4 weeks and get on with other tasks."
Larger farms with a wider range of machinery have a better case for not ploughing. "You can get away with it after break crops, provided you have the equipment to disc or tine."
A failure to consolidate the seed-bed sufficiently is the most common problem. "It helps keep moisture in the seed-bed, improve the activity of residual herbicides and reduce problems with take-all and slugs. So it is very important, but it is too often overlooked."
After ploughing, the options are numerous, he admits. The most important thing is not to get too far ahead with the seed-bed, it should be worked just before you need it."
Mr Barr reminds growers to be careful with power harrows and only go in good conditions. "Their advantage is that it is a one-man operation. But do not forget to look underneath the level finish."
Aim to create 5cm (2in) of tilth and drill to 3.75-5cm (1.5-2in), he advises. "The deeper the better, especially if slugs are around or Avadex (tri-allate) is being used. Too much tilth prevents water from draining away freely."
Growers considering direct drilling should keep an eye on the weather. "There is a place for it and it works well in dry conditions. But in wet autumns it is a disaster.
"Likewise, Ecotillage needs careful thought. All too often the savings made in cultivation costs are spent on additional herbicides. And soil structure must be good for it to work."
The labour and machinery availability on any farm should be considered as a whole before a cultivations plan is drawn up, says Mr Barr. Problem areas should be investigated before the plan is finalised.
"That may mean digging a hole and looking at the soil structure. Attention to detail at such a busy time of year will bring rewards."
Reducing seed rates may not be the right approach this autumn, he cautions. "It is tempting to react to the season which has just gone. Last year was wet and mild and the plants kept growing. But, this year, slugs are going to take their toll and a low seed rate might result in the need to re-drill."
Very early drilling also has its drawbacks, especially if blackgrass and take-all are concerns. "Sometime the extra chemical inputs outweigh the yield advantage," he says.
His final advice comes back to the costs of establishing the seed-bed. "By all means use contractors or share machinery to reduce costs. But do not miss a seed-bed pass just to save money; the quality of the seed-bed and crop establishment dictates final yields." *
• Check fields first.
• Slugs, grass weeds and disease carryover make ploughing and deeper drilling advisable.
• Take care if using a power harrow.
• Ecotillages need for more herbcide may boost overall costs.
• Aim to produce seed-bed just ahead of drilling.
Digging holes to check soil structure may not seem a top priority during a hectic harvest. But failure to do so can lead to big rooting problems for following crops, as Axient consultant Bill Barr demonstrates.