Harvest and planting are now complete. The wet September changed to a fairly dry October and the winter crops for 2018 harvest were planted and so far are looking pretty good with even emergence and no “holes” (bare patches) evident. The seeding process varies a little between fields but usually consists of the following operations – spraying the stubble of the previous crop to kill the weeds and volunteers (the seed lost from the combine that then germinates), a cultivation to a depth of about 15 cm with 6 legs followed by 2 rows of discs and a heavy press wheel to condition the soil. This pass is fairly rain safe in that it will take about ½ inch of rain without becoming a sodden morass.
The next cultivation is 2 more rows of discs and a lighter press before the seeding drill which again works the soil using 3 different modules before consolidation with many small tyres. Next, but not last, the soil is rolled with the heavy steel rolls to ensure the seed is in close contact with the soil and to push any stones / flints below the surface. Finally the crop is sprayed with herbicide to kill weeds that germinate at the same time as the crop. In conclusion spray, cultivate, cultivate, seed, roll and then spray again. This might sound a lot of operations but is much less than just a few years ago when we ploughed and the furrows had to be broken down. Now the soil is much easier to work and much healthier with abundant life of worms, beetles, microorganisms etc.
Slugs can be a major concern because they eat the germinating seed and thereby reduce the crop potential yield by lowering plant numbers and in the worst case can lead to a total crop failure. They are expensive to try to control but with the systems that we use pellet applications have not been necessary for 3 seasons – a great success.
The fewer passes with large tractors result in less compaction – the tyres are so wide that they exert a low ground pressure – much less than the tractors we used to use with less weight but narrow tyres. The current tractors produce lots of information about their operation including the spot rate fuel consumption which is more than 40 litres an hour so a fuel cost of £24 hour per tractor at current red diesel prices. 2 tractors each working for 10 hours a day therefore cost nearly £500 a day for fuel alone – it makes 50 litres of unleaded at the Four Marks BP garage seem a bargain.
The dry October allowed a change in cropping and more crops were planted than planned thus reducing the spring planting area and workload.
The ram has tupped (mated with) the ewes and therefore all management must be directed at ensuring that no fertilised eggs are lost so a good diet and not too much stress are what is required. The 2017 lambs are now grazing turnips which have a high energy content which should add some condition so that they are ready for marketing in the next few months.
Winter work is focused around paperwork for me but on the farm hedge cutting, machinery maintenance and cleaning, fencing and tidying are the current tasks.
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