Posted on 30 October, 2016Comments (0)

Farm Notes

Farm Notes

The wonderful spell of autumnal weather which we have all enjoyed has allowed us to plant most of the winter crops for the 2017 harvest. There is always a balance to be reached at this time of year between planting early which may result in having crops weedy and too forward before the winter or not planted at all because the ground is too wet from autumn / winter rains. The aim is that all the crops are established and growing well before the wet weather arrives and makes any field machinery operations impossible – even the best bits of kit quickly become useless when the ground is wet. The disadvantage of early planting is that there is a very short time window between the previous harvest and seeding so that there is insufficient time for weed seeds to germinate and then be killed off.

It is imperative that the maximum number of weeds seeds are encouraged to germinate otherwise they will compete with the new crop. We create what is known as a “false or stale seedbed” to encourage the weed seeds to germinate. Stubble burning used to do a wonderful job of killing weed seeds. Another disadvantage of early planting is that there are aphids flying which spread something called barley yellows disease virus (bydv) – it affects all cereals not just barley. Any bydv affected plants will show up from mid May next year and will be seen as irregular patches of yellow plants that yield significantly less (up to 50%) than unaffected plants. The aphids favour sheltered areas such as valleys and behind hedges and this is where the symptoms are seen. Frosts will kill the aphids or at least stop them flying and spreading the virus.

A large and very accurate crystal ball is needed to predict the weather from mid September until late October so that the right decisions are made during the planting period. It is so frustrating when the Met Office have been correct for a week and then get it wrong when unexpected downpours arrive – which of their forecasts to believe?

The planting operation consists of the following operations – a light discing to create the stale seedbed, spray once or twice to kill the resultant weeds, heavy cultivation to about 6 – 8 inches with a machine that also uses discs and a heavy duty packer (roller), disc again, plant with the seed drill, roll to consolidate the soil which also shatters any soil clods and presses stones below the surface so that damage to the combine is limited next year finally followed by a herbicide spray.

I have not used a plough anywhere for about 10 years and the soil is now much easier to work and has more beneficials such as worms and also higher organic matter levels. A spade used to dig a spit of soil now reveals a whole ecosystem. Some farms that I work with using similar cultivation systems have organic matter levels that have increased from about 3% to 7% which makes a huge difference to the soil fertility, drainage and effort required to make seedbeds – this is contrary to the media reports put out by NGOs with vested interests about farmers ruining the soil.

Julian Lewis

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]


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