Vicki Brooks Blog - Prioritising black-grass and cost control - Agrii - Connecting Agri-science with farming

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September 22, 2015

Vicki Brooks Blog – Prioritising black-grass and cost control

Following one of the best all round harvests we’ve had in recent years on the farms I advise from Woodbridge in Suffolk down to Southminster in Essex and across to Cambridge, we’ve plunged full bore into another season dominated by the joint challenges of controlling both costs and black-grass.

Our winter wheats averaged an encouraging 11.5 t/ha with very valuable across-the-board specific weights of 78-83 kg/hl. Good Hagbergs and Group 1 proteins of 13% – even with Skyfall – have also been especially valuable in a disappointing market. As have winter barley yields of 9.5-10t/ha wherever crops didn’t burn off on light ground and spring barleys at
6.5-7t/ha.

Unlike many eastern growers, most of our winter rape crops escaped the worst excesses of flea beetle to deliver around 3.8-4.0 t/ha. Particularly noticeable were yields of 3.5-3.75t/ha from herbicide resistant, Clearfield crops on ground where the charlock and runch normally prevent us getting more than 2.5- 3.0 t.

Encouragingly too, given the amount we’re now growing under the Basic Payments Scheme and EFA arrangements, our peas came in at 3.7-4.3t/ha.

The generally kind season helped us push for the yields we need to keep costs/tonne down and the quality essential for marketability in a buyer’s season while keeping the tightest possible rein on the input bill. We’re setting out to do this once again with our fingers very firmly crossed.

So far, I have to say, things haven’t started off too badly. Despite another stop-start harvest, most of our wheat came off in good enough time to allow us to get all our OSR drilled into decent seedbeds before the first few days of September were out. And, with plenty of moisture, they’ve kicked off well.

As I write in mid-September, our earliest mid-August sowings are at four true leaves with the latest drillings at the 1-2 leaf stage. Once again it looks like we’ll be escaping the flea beetle threat relatively unscathed. We’ve only had to employ a single pyrethroid spray to date, including it with our routine graminicide to target cereal volunteers and grass weeds.

At the same time, the season has generally kept the slugs down the soil profile and well-targeted ferric phosphate baiting has allowed us to stay on top of them – for the time being, anyway.

To minimise risk we’re mostly sticking with rape varieties that have proved their worth over the past two to three seasons, putting particular priority on disease resistance in view of the much higher levels of light leaf spot we’re seeing these days. Robust reliability and familiarity are also the priorities with our wheat and barley varieties.

The first of our wheats are just starting to go in, but only on fields coded green in our black-grass challenge traffic light system. The amber and red ground we’ll be leaving for as long as we can, using the moisture in our stubbles to give ourselves two good glyphosate kills before planting. Thankfully, we’re finding black-grass germinating readily in the stubbles even after just a light roll.

As it worked so well for us last year, we’ll be including an approved glyphosate in the pre-em mix in many cases again this season. The reasonable seedbeds in prospect – providing we don’t get too much more rain in this, the driest part of the country! – should allow us to get good activity from our base pre-em combination of flufenacet and DFF plus prosulfocarb where black-grass is more challenging and a more substantial stack of flufenacet, DFF, flurtamone and prosulfocarb for amber and red situations.

We’ll also be taking advantage of the flexibility to switch to spring drilling that a sizeable amount of Mulika and Belvoir in our variety mix gives us should conditions get in the way of seedbed preparation for later drilling. The advantage that research experience at Stow Longa shows varieties like these and higher yielding, KWS Kilburn offer in immediate margins as well as black-grass carryover is too great to ignore.