January 14, 2014
Enforced Change Boosts Spring Cropping Confidence
Last year saw a complete reversal of Graham Read’s cropping pattern to nearly 90% spring sowing at Sandhill Farm, Longbridge Deverill on the western edge of the Salisbury Plain. Although forced upon him by the season, the experience has been far from negative. Quite the opposite, in fact, it has given a real boost to his confidence in maintaining as much agronomic flexibility as possible.
Spring wheat, barley and OSR all performed well at harvest and with markedly lower input costs than normal. None of the farm’s soils have needed any remedial treatment. And treated JB Diego and California MasterSeeds held over from last autumn have germinated and emerged strongly from October sowing this season.
“All our winter cereal seed was still in the barn at that start of 2013 and much of our OSR was looking very sad,” Graham Read explained.
“So my Agrii agronomist Alec Thomas and I agreed we’d switch to spring cropping wherever necessary. The last thing we wanted to do was maul crops in, throw good money after bad and risk serious damage to our soils.
“We’ve been winter sowing the vast majority of our 150 arable acres (60 ha) for a good 10 years. But spring crops always did my grandfather well here, and Alec has plenty of experience with them in this area. So we swallowed hard, shut the gate and waited it out.”
As soon as the ground had dried out enough to work with a Top Down behind contractor, Andrew Fraser’s Challenger – which wasn’t until early March – Tybalt wheat and Rynchostar barley were drilled at 375 seeds/m2. At the same time, the decision was made to replace half the OSR with a spring variety, although this wasn’t drilled until April 20th.
“Both 20 acre fields of winter rape had been hammered by pigeons and partridges,” recalled Alec Thomas. “There were still a decent number of well-rooted plants in the one, so we left it in. The other, though, was completely crop-less. However, we deliberately held-off sowing the replacement until we could be sure of a decent soil temperature. Along with moisture, this is always my critical consideration with spring OSR.
“Despite the shortage of quality seed, we secured enough Makro for the job. Aided by rapid rolling, 150 kg/ha of N with a decent amount of S and a timely pre-em herbicide the day after drilling the vigorous hybrid took off like a rocket, forming a nice even carpet from the word go and never looking back.”
The spring rape went on to deliver 2.9 t/ha sold over the weighbridge at 9% moisture against 2.3t/ha from the winter crop left in the ground, leaving Graham and Alec well-pleased.
Equally welcome at Sandhill Farm were spring wheat and spring barley yields comfortably over 6.0 t/ha from input levels around a half to two-thirds those of the normal winter crops.
“We’ve very been encouraged by last season,” said Graham Read. “It wasn’t pretty. However, it showed us that cropping flexibility is vital these days. In particular, it taught us not to be afraid of spring crops, providing we can be sure of decent varieties and the best agronomic advice. It also reassured us about over-wintering treated cereal seed, providing it’s of sufficient quality.
“With the late cereal harvest we couldn’t get any winter OSR sown this season. After last year, though, Alec and I have already decided to put all our rape into Makro in the spring. And should it prove necessary again in the future – and we don’t have over-yeared seed to use up – we’ll certainly not be shy of growing more spring cereals either.”