Black-grass, drainage and a February update from Leamington arable Monitor Farm

As we hit February I usually start to think about what needs to be done over the next few months, finalising fertiliser orders and planning spring applications, but I usually end up  realising how far behind we are with other things. The weather has not been conducive to spraying here and it is backing up. A similar situation to others. Some late drilled wheat on one of the JV farms has only had Avadex and the black-grass is very bad. Similarly even where we managed to get on with both Avadex and a good pre em of Liberator and Crystal on our own land, more of the pernicious weed has come through during the mild winter. I will almost certainly have to spray off 3 or 4 hectares in one field which is heart breaking, but some would question why I even put a winter crop in that particular field in the first place. I always tell myself that we can control it better this year! Were we late with something last year or did we use the right products and rates? It does seem that whatever we do in some situations control is not up to the mark.

The only saving grace with this particular field is that I have completely dropped second winter cereals, both wheat and barley, so the block in question will go in to spring beans. Beans yielded well for us last year and despite the low price I will be growing them again this year. There are limited options for other spring break crops, and they are better for the soil that a fallow. Although they will not make us rich, they do offer a contribution to overheads.

I will be trying something different this year, and planting a small acreage of spring linseed. Having never grown the crop before, I am not sure if I am doing the right thing but, drastic measures and all that! Some people I speak to have been growing it for years, love it and would never consider dropping it. Others grew it once 20 years ago, had a terrible experience and would never grow it again. Varieties and agronomy have moved on a lot recently so I decided that the only way to find out for sure was to grow 50 acres. We will know if it has been a success if Richard, my combine driver, is still here come October!

Over the winter we have been trying to remedy drainage problems around the farm. We try to do as much of this as we can with the aid of a 13t digger and a homemade trencher. It seems to be working a treat after few modifications and means that we are saving a fortune on decent stone backfill as we are only digging a trench 5in wide, not a foot and a half! The drainage at Squab Hall is starting to show its age. Install in the 60s and 70s with no backfill. The round clay pipes and even older horse shoe drain are more often than not silted up when we did in a problem area. A plan to remedy the worst areas over the next few years is underway.

Our latest Monitor Farm meeting in January was on the subject of black-grass control and was our best attended meeting to date. It is a problem facing most around here and people were keen to talk about options and ideas both short term and further in to the future. After a fantastic joint benchmarking meeting with the Hereford group in December, we have made a decision on our 15 year old sprayer. I asked the group what we should do with our old Bateman RB16 and offered a few options. These varied in investment from keeping the old machine and spending a few thousand on it, or investing up to £150K in a new self-propelled machine. We also looked at a few options in between including changing to a trailed model. In the end we have decided to go for the cheaper short term option and have ours refurbished. This will allow us to defer the decision to change for a year or two while hopefully adding some value to ours.

February also brings on the advent of having to remember how to convert shape files and upload jobs for variable rate fertiliser spreading. I see precision farming as an absolute must in our business, and I think that people need to overcome the fear of getting started down that path. It was a great worry to see so few local farmers interested in topic at our Precision Farming meeting last year! Having not seen a variable rate plan since drilling four months ago it is always tough to recall the correct procedures and menu systems to get going at this time of year. This is greatly helped by the guys at our machinery supplier who run training courses on our kit to help kick start the brain cells, something I have not yet been offered by others!

It is hard to write anything about arable farming at present and not mention prices. Again we have sold (or not) the 2015 crop very poorly and are now faced with feed wheat at £105 for June and sub £100 today. We try to play the market and get the high prices, but also need to be looking at cutting our losses at some point! Usually when we sell the market rises a few days after, so I will let you all know when we decide to let some go (or this this inside trading?).

 

RobertFox

RobertFox

Robert Fox is a farm manager based just outside Leamington Spa. The business is highly diversified, with a large enterprise around general storage and document storage, as well as machinery and labour sharing with another arable farm. Robert farms 400ha of owned and rented land, with a rotation of winter wheat, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, spring beans and spring barley. His challenges in the coming years include black-grass control, improving soil quality and introducing controlled traffic farming.

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