Take immediate action to meet deadline for drilling s
By Charles Abel
ARE you planning a fast start to autumn drilling? Will you be doing all you can to be 100% drilled up by mid-October? Will you drill earlier than ever to avoid a repeat of last autumn?
Whatever your intentions, the key to success is to plan now, advises Lincs-based farm consultancy Aubourn.
"There is a lot to do and there is just a matter of weeks to get it all planned," says the firms Philip. Ashton. "It will be too easy to have all the right intentions and then let it slip. This year there is a real need to plan, especially given the soil problems left by the wet winter."
The goal must be to be 100% drilled up in good time, stresses managing director Philip Wynn.
Cultivations, seed supply, rotation and variety choice all need detailed thought to recoup some of the losses suffered after the wettest winter on record.
"It will not be a normal cultivations season," says Mr Ashton. "Growers may need to get extra tractor capacity ordered now and should certainly consider informal machinery sharing."
In-field soil assessment is vital. "Just where flooding and compaction occurred may no longer be entirely clear," says Aubourn soils expert Neil Fuller.
"Simply dig to 12-18in and look at how the roots are doing, where the water table is and whether there is compaction and consolidation. And smell it – if it is rank it has been waterlogged and needs special treatment."
Subsoiling needs planning and should only be done where compaction is found at depth. Shallower smearing and consolidation can be dealt with using cultivators at less cost.
Furthermore, subsoiling should only be done when soil is dry enough to lift and fracture. Moist soils will simply smear, causing further trouble.
A return to ploughing where wet land was min-tilled last year may seem logical, but could be a retrograde step." Min-till changes the soil physics and biology and you need to allow time to get the benefit of those changes. So stick with it and you will see the benefits over time. If there is compaction then subsoil, but dont plough."
Earlier drilling will be popular, but seed of the right varieties needs to be available at the right time and the correct sowing rates must be chosen.
With 30% less certified seed available and potential problems organising haulage it will be a sellers market, says Mr Ashton. Over-wintered seed is likely to be at a considerable premium, but germination test it to ensure vigour, he says. "Lower rates for early sowing mean every seed needs to emerge."
If this years crops are good enough then farm-save, but again be sure to test germination and book the mobile cleaner early.
Early drilled crops will also need special management at drilling and throughout the growing season, adds Mr Wynn. "A lot of people will not have gone so early before and many made mistakes two years ago. So it is important to learn from those mistakes and avoid making them again."
A key issue is seed rate. "People are still not dropping seed rates low enough. If seed-bed conditions are right then 80 seeds/sq m is fine. But conditions do need to be right. If the soil is bone dry then seed could sit there for a month, which would be disastrous."
Wheat has phenomenal tillering capacity, as shown in an Aubourn trial on extremely light land in near perfect conditions. Where 20 seeds/ sq m were drilled with a Stanhay Dart precision drill on Aug 17, each plant has 22 tillers, each with a good sized ear, says Mr Ashton.
Take-all seed treatment Latitude (silthiofam) will help move drilling earlier, allowing second wheats to be drilled two to three weeks earlier in good soil conditions with minimal yield loss from the disease.
But dont put all your eggs in the wheat basket, warns Mr Wynn. "Oilseed rape still has a key role to play, despite its lower profitability. Its early drilling frees resources for later and it will help spread harvest next year. But it does need to be grown at less cost."
Broadcasting into standing wheat ahead of the combine is cheaper than an Autocast-type system on the combine. Aubourn has had particular success where stubble is left long to deter pigeons and straw is chopped small and spread wide, which is easier after pre-harvest glyphosate. Rolling after combining helped, but a light cultivation did not.
Weed control options are fewer, but provided green material is sprayed off pre-harvest and the soil is not disturbed weed chit is much reduced.
Cereal weed control will also be at a premium, after heavy grass weed populations set seed this year. Map weed areas now to target extra controls and book a pre-emergence contractor to ease the workload, advises Mr Ashton. *
Variety Right for date.
Seed rate Match seed-bed.
Equipment Own kit or contractors?
Soils Check now.
Grass weeds Plan attack.
Oilseed rape Dont dismiss.