Talking Agronomy with Greg Taylor - Agrii - Connecting Agri-science with farming

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May 6, 2022

Talking Agronomy with Greg Taylor

May 2022

Going into mid-April all our spring crops – with the exception of linseed and maize – are safely in the ground. Some persistently cold nights have led many to take their time getting going. But a decently dry winter with enough moisture in the ground has meant they’ve direct drilled really well.

Sheep-grazed winter covers – of which we have had many more this season – have given us a particularly good entry for spring drilling; not least after such strong autumn and winter growth. The informal arrangements our growers have developed with local shepherds well-equipped with electric fencing and keen for extra forage in January and February have proved really valuable.

One big upside has been much less residue to get in the way of drilling. While grazing removes some of the captured nutrients, we find this is more than made-up for by the ‘processing’ the crop gets into organic matter with a better carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.
By the time they reach the New Year too, we reckon the covers have done their main job of absorbing CO2, providing root exudates and protecting the soil and its structure.

As well as clear advantages for those with little opportunity to introduce livestock into their rotations, sheep grazed covers are proving an environmental scheme in themselves – and one delivering greater environmental benefits than most overwintered stubbles.

The fact that grazing saves a glyphosate treatment and provides a bonus of around 50p/ewe/week adds further value to our cover cropping.

After grazing, we have found it vital to leave the ground long enough for the soil to weather down ahead of drilling. We also need sufficient weed growth to enable an effective pre-drilling spray of glyphosate. Otherwise, we get far too many broad-leaves – not to mention grassweeds – in our crops at just the time they are most vulnerable to competition.

With conditions as good as they have been this spring, we have seen tine-based direct drills perform as well as disc drills. Where they have been used before the ground has dried out enough, however, tine drills have lifted too much soil and squashed it down badly on the seed on occasion. Patience has been an obvious virtue here, in the same way it has been in making sure of the best slot closure with disc drilling.

Unlike no-till purists, we haven’t been afraid to do a little shallow spring cultivation or soil lifting ahead of drilling wherever needed; especially to make sure the land comes out of linseed in the best condition for direct wheat drilling in the autumn.

We definitely have more peas in the ground this season but not as big an area of legumes overall as we thought might have been the case. With working capital levels set to be so much higher next season, though, I’m sure 2023 will see a lot more spring cropping in general and legumes in particular. After all, it will be crucial to ‘cut one’s coat to suit the cloth’, making sure that only land well able to deliver a good 8-10t/ha of wheat goes into it.

Thankfully, most of our wheats are still in very good shape with little early disease. And the bulk of our OSR has recovered remarkably well from alarming levels of late winter pigeon damage. The colder recent weather that has held back our spring crops has really helped to calm winter crop growth down.

We are particularly pleased with the potential our earlier drilled wheats have, with KWS Extase standing out for its tillering as well as cleanliness. Having concentrated our early spray programme more on nutrition and plant growth regulation than anything else, Septoria remains our key watch out as we move towards T1.

We are also continuing to do everything we can to minimise the stress our crops are under this spring. I only wish we could do the same for their agronomist!

Greg Taylor