Where do I start?

Harvest 2015 was always going to be a tough one to follow and Harvest 2016 has dropped into the ‘average’ category for ourselves. If that. It was not a surprise given the wet winter, very long cold spring/ early summer and a dull June. Anything with high clay content or poor drainage remained wet and struggled to warm up in the spring with W Barley in particular suffering in these conditions.

Overall yields were:  W Barley 6.9t/ha, HEAR OSR at 3t/ha, S Barley 5.9t/Ha, W Beans 3.6t/ha, S Beans 4.8t/ha, and W Wheat (saving the day) around the 10t/ha.

So not the result I was hoping for twelve months ago and hopefully not to be repeated anytime soon. I have questioned the decision not to plough in favour of soil health and the switch to CTF,  however, when you compare yields of W Barley on good ground of equal comparison, the ploughed ground yielded 7.35t/ha compared to the non-inversion at 7.25t/ha. I’m looking for any information to back up my decision so I’ll settle for that. Plus, I am fully committed to improving the health of the soil and cannot ignore the work and research which is currently going on to reflect this. Even in the short time since adopting this approach we are seeing an improvement in our soils. Hopefully Philip Wright and Liz Stockdale will both agree with me at the Monitor Farm meetings we are hosting this autumn.

While I am being kind to the soil it appears I’m also being kind to the slug. Without a doubt it is my No 1 pest at the moment. The numbers we were finding in our crops throughout the summer were off the scale and this presented a challenge.  Moving from a plough or a disc, tine & press machine to a tine only has not only been kind to the soil but kind to the slug. The first fields of OSR sown after chopped W Barley suffered badly. I wrote last year that I wasn’t happy with the OSR establishment and while I’m happier this year it could definitely be better. It was our first year with a modified tine drill putting D.A.P and seed down the same spout and while we had problems early in the season these have been addressed.

Slug pressure on the wheat has been high after OSR and appears to be zero after beans, which supports the six-year rotation we now have. What we found is ‘recreational cultivations’ and double rolled fields suffer little trouble from the slug. Headlands often do not suffer any damage at all. All our OSR stubbles were rolled once fields were cleared prior to any cultivation to try and squash them, which I think helped.

Machinery-wise, I can breathe a sigh of relief as the ‘ancient’ fleet made it through the season largely unscathed.

Tractor wise: A faulty viscous fan was the most expensive repair that ‘possibly’ wasn’t required, four hydraulic hoses, one fan belt tensioner, one fan belt, four punctures and a few work lights.

Combines: A hydraulic valve chest, knife drive gearbox, broken knife and  variator pulley assembly were the biggest repairs. An electrical fault was quickly identified and some other minor problems meant harvest ran very smoothly.

Credit to the build quality of our machines and the high standard of maintenance from our staff all helped. I’m waiting for when we have a machine Armageddon – thankfully it’s not happened yet.

On our move to CTF I’m pleased that it worked and while there are still some issues to resolve for next year the concept was soon recognised in a positive way by all involved. My aim was to get all the big equipment on the same wheelings and then work on the smaller ones. Amazingly the combines worked first time out. Especially so when you consider one has a 7.5m header and the other a 10.5m and they are working on 8m widths.  The problems occurred when we swathed W barley and the Fastracs couldn’t straddle the swaths. Or when we split the combines up. One wasn’t wide enough and the other 10.5m would run half full. However when running together and chopping CTF worked well and once the combine laid down the tracks the cultivators could follow. Even the student who didn’t have GPS could follow the previous wheelings. So simple, until you cultivate the wheelings completely then you rely on GPS which brings other problems. Simple scratch markers will be fitted next year so the 8m mark will be visible to the next operator. Cultivating at an angle will still take place if we feel it will level the field or improve the seedbed and will be assessed on a field by field basis, so it’s a new option to have and one that will used where possible but not vital. I do question the damage a 6t tractor will do on a dry field pulling a light cultivator / roller at an angle. I also recognise I have other issues to overcome before CTF is fully merited. OSR establishment is one of them.


Hopefully the forthcoming meetings will be well supported as the speakers are excellent and there will be lots to discuss.



Richard Reed farms a mix of owned and contract farmed land and contracting totalling 1170ha with his father near Berwick-upon-Tweed. He grows winter wheat for biscuit wheat or distilling, oilseed rape, winter barley for malt, feed, and seed, spring barley, and tried 3ha spring beans in 2014. During the Monitor Farm programme, Richard hopes to look at improving soil structure and condition, work force succession, grain marketing and machinery and establishment costs.

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