Malmesbury Monitor Farm update

What a difference a year made! At this time in 2018 (early April) the only field work completed was the first fertilizer spread on the few fields where we could travel. Meanwhile what seemed like our eternal winter continued and all we could do was stare at waterlogged fields and a mountain of spring cereal and bean seed waiting to be sown.

Fast forward to 2019. All winter crops have received their second application of fertilizer and our spring beans are in the ground. Those that went in during the kind spell at the end of February, two months sooner than last year, are looking good already. The last 6 hectares were sown at the very end of March, following our first try out of cover crops. These were grazed by sheep for a month to remove most of the foilage. It may have been all those little feet, but the soil was very hard and required some serious cultivations ahead of the drill.

Following two successive years growing a substantial area of spring barley, grown primarily to reduce the black-grass burden, we have returned to what for us is a more ‘normal’ amount of winter barley. We are giving a hybrid variety Libra, another chance alongside, new for us, the conventional Tower. Both went into excellent seedbeds at the beginning of October, the pre-em herbicides appear to have worked well, along with high tiller numbers we are hoping that any surviving black-grass might be smothered out.

We have three varieties of winter oilseed rape, established for the sixth year by direct drilling. I am sure the lack of moisture was as big a problem as cabbage stem flea beetle during September, however all the fields survived only for one to be continually attacked by rabbits! They are currently at different growth stages although being planted within seven days, as I write Extrovert is already busting into flower.

With the ongoing problems we all face establishing oilseed rape we are growing winter oats, the first time since 2003. To date the only cost has been the seed and a small amount of fertilizer, very different to OSR. Let’s hope they are still standing at harvest.

Like most winter sown crops our wheats are looking well. We’ve stayed with Skyfall and Graham and are trying Silverstone. Black-grass control has been significantly better than last year. For the first time we applied peri-emergence products, Sunfire and Orient, to our worst three fields, with two also receiving Pacifica this spring. Our T0 fungicides will be going on any day now, although we will be leaving an unsprayed area in both the Skyfall and Silverstone, with further try-outs to follow.

Our 18/19 winter meetings have now come to an end. They continue to be well supported, by both regulars and new faces. Topics included a follow up to the machinery review of our business undertaken by Strutt and Parker, an insight into the pros and cons of organic farming by John Pawsey and an overview of fungicides old and new with Jonathan Blake. The stand out meeting much to my surprise was about marketing of the produce we all grow, and the possible scenarios after the UK leaves the EU.

If you’ve yet to attend a Monitor Farm meeting I urge you to do so. I’m sure that you will return home having learned something new and met many like-minded farmers.

We look forward to welcoming visitors old and new to our summer meeting in June, where we hope to show the effects that the different cover crops might have had on the following spring beans and the results of our wheat fungicide try outs. Alongside what we hope has been a more successful black-grass control strategy, and a look ahead to how we might establish this autumn’s OSR.

Roger Wilson

Roger Wilson

Roger Wilson farms in partnership with his brother Peter at Lower Odd Farm in Wiltshire. They have 170 ha owned land plus10 ha rented grassland. The arable rotation is flexible, incorporating winter wheat, oilseed rape, spring beans, winter and spring barley as well as grass leys. All crops are dried and stored on-farm. The farm has a beef herd which are fed home-grown cereals. Key challenges for the farm are the threat of ryegrass, inconsistent bean yields, rape establishment, pyrethroid resistance and managing the farm’s heavier soils. During the three years of the Monitor Farm programme, Roger would like to address topics including succession, soil management and the evaluation of variable rate fertilisers.