Getting ready for harvest 2015

The spring crops are looking well. These have been sown both using the strip till drill and also the more conventional system of plough, cultivate, drill. Perhaps the most obvious lesson to come out of spring drilling was the need for residue management to be spot on. The baler did not pick up some areas of straw, and areas of high chaff were slower to establish. This will be avoided next year by using the straw rake and chopping rather than baling to give a better spread of trash.

We have more spring barley than planned: we sprayed off some winter wheat that had lots of black-grass in (even though it was November-sown on heavy land) and used the strip till drill to direct drill spring barley which looks very pleasing. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly but the figures for a decent barley crop looked better than for a poor wheat crop.

Our new 9m strip till drill has arrived and is joined by a 12m straw rake or Strake. The drill is fitted with a liquid fertiliser kit and we have had a few test runs to make sure we minimise any down time when OSR drilling arrives.

We have noticed some interesting comparisons between weed emergence in strip till drilled and conventionally drilled crops, both winter and spring. This was particularly evident with a block of spring beans, some of which had been ploughed and drilled and some direct drilled into stubble. The lack of weed emergence, especially early on, after the strip till drilling meant not having to use herbicides and the beans had less competition through their early growth stages. We have also noticed better herbicide control in direct drilled crops, compared with conventional min till; however, this will need more investigation.

Spraying is almost completed now, and we are focused on getting ready for harvest; completing all those little jobs. Stores are cleaned out and ready to go and combines are nearly ready.

On the livestock front, our silage is wrapped and stacked in the yard. With finishing cattle gone and the rest out at grass, the workload is lessened somewhat. However, with the need for introducing a source of organic matter becoming ever more pressing and the logistics and scale of muck for straw beyond us, the focus has turned to cover crops. This seems to be a buzz area at the moment, but it does take time to get through all the information to find the facts. There is definitely a need for organic matter, and we have a long term plan to improve soil health, but this has to be paid for somehow. With cover crop seed prices where they are, in addition to establishment, fertiliser and any pesticide costs, we are investigating grazing these crops so they bring in some financial income rather than just soil health benefits.