Why timeliness lifts yields

6 July 2001

Why timeliness lifts yields

By Edward Long

MORE timely drilling, input use and crop combining is helping one wheat grower maximise yields, reduce costs and ease harvest management.

Most of the 186ha (460 acres) of Equinox, Napier, Claire and Consort winter wheat grown on MJ Dawkins Grange Wold Farm at Riby, near Grimsby, Lincs, is first wheat with a yield target of 10t/ha (4t/acre).

"There was potential to boost yields and cut costs, which is exactly what we are doing with ADAS help," says Jon-Henry Dawkins. "Over the past two years, we have brought the drilling date forward by three weeks to early September, allowing us to cut the seed rate to reduce costs.

"This year we used 70kg/ha for the first drillings, a saving of £10-12/ha across 50ha. Despite the threat from slugs and wheat bulb fly, I believe we could have gone down to 50kg. But I am not convinced modern drills are sufficiently accurate to cope with such low rates."

To achieve the early sowing required to save seed costs, one-quarter of the wheat was established with a min-till Koeckerling drill.

That was the first time the no-plough technique had been used for wheat. Without it, much less crop would have gone in this season.

This autumn it will be used for half the crop. But until Mr Dawkins is convinced it gives worthwhile benefits, he prefers to use a contractor rather than buy a machine himself.

However, he has spent more than £25,000 on a new Amazone spreader and Hardi 20m sprayer in an attempt to boost output to improve application timings, enabling pesticide rates to be reduced and products to be used more efficiently.

The 2800-litre machine can treat 100ha/day (250 acres) – twice as much as the sprayer it replaced.

Getting input timings right is vital. Mr Dawkins walks his crops with ADAS adviser David Coppack, who provides a recommendation sheet specifying growth stage timings for fertiliser, pgr and fungicides.

With the luxury of a high-capacity sprayer, Mr Dawkins can choose the best possible conditions for treatment efficiency.

"By applying chemicals at the optimum time, we can use the lowest rates to cut costs," he says. "And by buying through ADAS Direct, we benefit from a low unit price. Because we are determined to apply only enough chemical to do an effective job, our costs are not running out of control.

"The cost of seed, fertiliser and sprays for all crops on the farm averages under £100/acre. Seven or eight years ago it was £125. With 750 acres, that adds up to a saving of almost £20,000."

Upgrading the combine from a New Holland TX36 to a TX66 has increased capacity by 35%, which allows Mr Dawkins to wait until grain moistures are 17% or less before cutting, so reducing drying costs.

But with strobilurin fungicide used for all three sprays, pre-harvest glyphosate conditioning was tried for the first time last year. "It improved threshing efficiency and we ended up with a drier and cleaner sample than we normally expect," says Mr Dawkins. &#42

Savings potential

Correct timing allows lower pesticide rates and offers cash savings without compromising efficiency or crop yields, says ADAS adviser David Coppack.

He believes there is huge potential for improving timeliness. "If the timing is wrong, chemical or seed rates must be increased to compensate, so costs rise in an attempt to achieve the same goal.

"If the drilling date is missed on heavy land and the weather turns nasty, growers risk having to put up with substantially lower yields. The impact of this is increased unit costs because inputs have to spread over a lighter crop.

"If a fungicide is delayed – even by a few days – it is likely that a more expensive triazole partner will be needed to chase the same yield."

For optimum yield, wheat needs about 600 heads/sq m at harvest, says Mr Coppack. If lower seed rates are used for early sowings, it is critical not to apply nitrogen too soon.

Given too much N, the crop uses up energy, producing unwanted tillers, and the resulting lush stand will need more growth regulator and fungicide.


&#8226 304ha (750 acres) light/medium loamy sand.

&#8226 Wheat (Claire, Consort, Equinox and Napier), barley (Regina), peas, sugar beet and spring beans.

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