Battle against the rabbit

For us machinery maintenance and cattle are top priorities this time of year; however there is also grain to out load, and keeping an eye on pigeons and rabbits can be a time-consuming job.

It’s the plough’s turn in the workshop at the moment now that its work has been completed for another year, once it has been sorted it will be packed away till autumn.

We are currently reorganising the workshop, bearing in mind the adage of a place for everything and everything in its place! Keeping areas tidy not only looks good but is important for health and safety, and as we have two young apprentices instilling correct procedure from the start is vital.

We haven’t yet suffered much from pigeon damage. The majority of problems are coming from partridges, however it only takes a few days of frost and the hungry hordes will descend again. In contrast, the battle against the rabbit seems to take place year after year. We rely mainly on trapping for control, with use of aluminium phosphide and lamping where possible, and this approach is very successful with around 1800 rabbits trapped each year.

This time of the year is also event season, with numerous workshops, lectures and conferences to attend. Improving soil health and organic matter status with cover cropping and residue management are our key topics this year, while also keeping tabs on the more traditional areas of varieties and pesticides. While research into these techniques is important, trials on the farm are the best way to learn and so we are looking into growing cover crops in 2015 as part of the rotation. As part of our research we went to visit a farm in Kent where they have been using a DTS for two years. The soil looked in good health with some impressive crops on some very wet and heavy low lying land. A 6m drill and 350hp tractor with a 6m straw rake took care of the majority of cultivations and drilling with a subsoiler used for compacted areas. The reduced labour requirement improved their bottom line, with one man drilling all of their 1500 acres, and they also found they had improved black-grass control.

The majority of our Sumo drilled crops are looking well, however there has been a learning curve in terms of residue management and making sure manure is well rotted. Despite this, water infiltration seems much improved, especially on heavy land, and even with the wide rows there isn’t the amount of black-grass coming that we usually see, despite the lack of crop competition.

Hopefully the weather will improve into the New Year and the wait for spring land work, fertiliser spreading and spraying will not be too long. Our increased acreage of spring cropping means this time of the year is nearly as pressured as harvest and backend drilling. However, we are seeing improvements in black-grass control, and a wider rotation should allow better yields of key crops such as wheat and OSR. In terms of long term sustainability, financial analysis of a rotation as a whole might be a better approach than taking individual crops in isolation. After all we would all grow first wheat every year if we could!