5 September 1997


Drilling time is crunch time – whether early or late in the season it defines crop prospects for the rest of the year. Here we look at a Suffolk growers efforts to avoid early drilling delays and then consider variety choices for the late sowing slot

RECEIVING seed on time is vital to get crops established well, and nowhere more so than on the heavy clay soils of Suffolk.

Growing continuous cereals on heavy land makes timely establishment vital for Suffolk grower Ian Yeldham. He aims to drill all his 243ha (600 acres) of winter wheat and barley at Northeys Farm, Belchamp Walter, near Sudbury by the middle of September.

"We only get one opportunity to create a seed-bed on this heavy boulder clay," he explains. "Once weve lost a seedbed, either from lack of moisture or destruction by heavy rain, it is difficult to get it back again."

Normal procedure is to plough and then roll or top tilth about 36 hours later.

"Weve found that creating a good seedbed in August allows us to spray off the first flush of blackgrass and volunteers before drilling begins," continues Mr Yeldham. "Weve achieved control levels in excess of 95% with this approach. The final seed-bed is prepared just prior to drilling."

Essential to the timeliness of the drilling operation is the availability of seed. With such tight deadlines, Mr Yeldham has to have the seed ready on the farm before drilling starts.

"We drill up to 40ha in a day," he points out. "This means we cannot afford to be waiting for seed to arrive – it has to be here before we begin."

For this reason, he decided to make use of a new guaranteed delivery seed service from Direct Farm Marketing this year. A guaranteed delivery date – in this case Sept 13 – has been agreed by both parties.

"I know that 15t of Equinox will be on the farm on that date," says Mr Yeldham. "If for any reason they fail to deliver, then they will return 50% of the cost of the seed."

He also plans to clean 35t of home-saved seed. However, he prefers to wait to see how varieties perform both on the farm and in trials in the current year before committing to them again.

In previous years, he has produced his own seed for the earliest drilling dates.

"Seed deliveries have become more and more difficult over the past few years," he adds. "A wider choice of both varieties and seed treatments has made the decision process more complex and there is less certainty of getting what you want by a certain date."

Late delivery of 4t of wheat seed last year created problems at Northeys Farm, with Mr Yeldham having to settle for a different, less favoured variety in order to have seed on time.

"We put a lot of time and thought into planning, so it is very annoying when seed merchants cant deliver," he explains. "We have to get the crops in the ground as soon as possible to get the best yields."

Mr Yeldham admits that he might be paying a little extra for his seed. "But seed prices change all the time. Without the seed, we cant afford to risk making a seed-bed, so its worth paying to ensure it is here."

"The combination of continuous cereals and heavy land means its dangerous to create a seed-bed too early," he concludes. "This year, for the first time, I know that we will have our seed in time to ensure the crops get off to the best start."

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