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Talking Agronomy | Greg Taylor - September 2022

Blog - 06.09.22

It is hardly rocket science, but moisture preservation is everything for us this autumn; especially as there is nowhere near enough rain in prospect to change our ground conditions significantly over the next few weeks.

To have finished our harvest by the end of the second week in August is incredible. What is more, our driers have had a good rest, easing the fuel bills. And, considering how little rain they have had, most spring as well as winter crops have yielded amazingly well.

The hugely welcome rain we got in June was, almost certainly, the bare minimum needed for this sort of performance. For which much of the credit has to go to the great start our winter crops had last autumn, and much better soil health.

Conditions that have been so good for harvesting don’t bode nearly as well for sowing this time around, though. Certainly not for the early start we hoped to get for our OSR and cover crops.

Having said that, very warm soils will support rapid growth once they get some moisture; flea beetle levels at harvest have been very low; most of our soils have come out of the past season reasonably well-structured; and – provided they are in good condition – it will take a lot of rain to get in the way of drilling.

With extremes of weather invariably exposing weaknesses in systems and soils, we also take heart from improvements we have made in the resilience of both in recent years. The performance advantage enjoyed by crops on our more biologically active soils last season was marked. And, we know they will give us much more leeway to achieve good establishment with the least amount of moisture this autumn, too.

To make the most of every bit of moisture, our autumn emphasis is firmly on minimum soil movement. Indeed, it looks like being just the season for anyone with a decent direct drilling capability in their equipment to try it out; not least because anything more than minimal cultivation will be so hard and costly on fuel and metal as well as moisture.

Very low CSFB levels so far have given us the confidence to hold-off on most of our OSR drilling in the hope of some useful rain. If we still don’t get any by the end of the first week in September, though, we will be holding-off on the crop altogether.

Instead, we will be looking to winter beans to give us much more autumn-sowing breathing space, or spring pulses or even linseed to get us back to wheat in the rotation. Even though 2022 linseed yields have suffered from the drought, we grow the crop because it gives us one of our best opportunities for good grass weed control and a perfect trash-free entry for direct wheat drilling.

Where sheep fodder isn’t important, the dryness means we are definitely having to give winter cover crops a miss in most cases. If we don’t get them away by the end of August here, they are a waste of effort and expense.

In their place we will be relying on a combination of uncultivated stubbles and weeds – which always seem to establish far better than sown crops – to protect our soils and hold their structure. Weeds are, after all, active roots in the ground, and a good dose of glyphosate gets rid of them as well as any sown cover ahead of the spring.

Things continuing to stay dry well into the autumn will definitely try our wheat sowing patience. Direct drilling will, however, give us the opportunity to get those on all but our highest grassweed risk fields sown even if we don’t get a decent weed flush to spray-off ahead before mid-October. Then, with the right pre- and peri-em balance we should have competitive crops well able to deal with any later flushes that do come through.

Greg Taylor

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