Weather frustrates effort
The wettest April this
century has severely
hampered operations on our
Allan Wright reports from
Scotland and Andrew Blake
sums up the scene
KEEPING a tight rein on variable costs is a priority at Bailielands, Perthshire, where Eric Haggart has a near precision farming approach to inputs. But the greatest variable of all, the weather, is his main concern at the moment.
"It is just not playing the game," says Mr Haggart as April slips away with most of his spring oilseed rape still unsown.
"There are few things worse than having crops to sow or fields to spray and not being able to get on because the land is so wet. An excellent start to the year has been spoiled in the past month or so," he says.
Although frustrated that the 32ha (82 acres) of Maskot spring rape will be sown much later than he likes, Mr Haggart has sown, or resown, in May and still been successful.
Bad weather has delayed winter cereal spraying. "Our aim is to give wheat its first fungicide at growth stage 30. But that passed and we could not get onto the land."
The delayed spray is a tank mix of broad spectrum Sportak Delta (cyproconazole + prochloraz) at 500ml/ha, Bravo (chlorothalonil) at 500ml (or 750ml where there is more risk of septoria), and Orka (fenpropimorph + quinoxyfen) at 250-300ml to control mildew.
"These are lower rates than my Dalgety agronomist Willie Innes recommends. But we have walked the fields very thoroughly and the disease pressure is low at the moment, so I am putting a little in the bank for the second spray at GS39," says Mr Haggart.
Inputs are controlled not only field by field but within fields. "If an area looks well it will get extra fertiliser while a really poor part may be almost written off."
Budgets have been done for winter wheat and barley. But despite every attention Mr Haggart says he cannot match variable costs claimed by other barometer growers. "We are going for maximum yields so there is no skimping of fertiliser and rates are even higher than last year. We also have to counter manganese deficiency and slug control always adds to our costs."
Variable costs for wheat are £228/ha (£92/acre) including use of strobilurin fungicide on one field. "We feel we have to try them out, despite the cost."
Income is forecast at £794/ha (£321/acre), including area aid, based on a wheat price of £74/tonne and a yield of 7.5t/ha (3t/acre). "That leaves a gross margin of £566/ha which could be higher because the wheat looks well and may yield more than we forecast."
"We can work away at that sort of figure. But after fixed costs it doesnt leave anything for reinvestment and we have abandoned plans for a new grain store," says Mr Haggart.
Growth regulator Adjust (chlormequat) has been applied to all winter cereals except one backward barley field. "We missed the optimum timing on the wheat and didnt get it on until GS31/32. But we must keep crops standing in Scotland and are confident there will still be an adequate response. We may have to beef it up with a half-rate dose of Terpal at GS39," he says.
There is great interest in a 28ha field of Maresi spring barley. Half was sown on Mar25 before the weather broke. It was Apr12 before the rest was drilled. *
Spring rape is still unsown, but at least the winter crops flowers have escaped the frosts, Eric Haggart and agronomist Willie Innes discover.
Sodden soils continue to frustrate fieldwork elsewhere.
• West Potato planting has been on hold for a month, reports Steven Mackintosh. "We have only 45ha out of 180 in the ground. It is an absolute nightmare. I cant see us doing any more until May." He is even re-ploughing some worked ground to try to dry it out. Only 40% of his sugar beet is sown, albeit in good conditions. Spraying and fertilising on the cereals has continued but timings have suffered, and wheelings, especially on the river land, are likely to trim yields. "The ruts are horrendous. The only silver lining is that a lighter potato crop could boost prices," he says. But even that optimism is dampened by rumours of unsown spring combinable crop land being switched to potatoes.
• Midlands With just 18% of his 146ha (360 acres) of maincrop potatoes planted, Steven McKendricks main concern is for a late harvest. Last year the whole crop, a similar area, was in by Apr 21, he notes. "We need 20 good days to finish." At 250mm (10in) the farm has already had half last years total rainfall. The only bright spot is that all the seed is either in trays or cold store, so sprouts remain manageable. Despite the wet weather, cereal operations, including a test application of Landmark (kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole) fungicide, have remained more or less on schedule. "We are managing to travel."
• South With half his 12ha (30 acres) of Eiffel peas still to go in, Patrick Godwin is considering switching to maize with the aim of selling it as a standing crop in the autumn. "It might be too late for a sensible crop of peas and there is a good market for maize round here." It took until September last year to reach the 280mm (11in) of rain he has had so far in 1998. Prolonged flowering in winter rape will make optimum timing of his anti-sclerotinia spray tricky, he notes. "I am also a bit concerned about the effect of the cold, wet weather on pollination." Wheat given early fungicide has had to re-treated because of the delay until flag leaf emergence. "We used up old stock, but it is still an extra expense."