The exceptionally dry conditions in eastern England have continued through harvest and crop establishment. This has made crop management easier in some ways but much more difficult in others. Easier in that all our crops were harvested dry thereby avoiding additional drying costs, more difficult in that timing of crop drilling became very problematic and crop growth has been slow.
Harvest went well. Our oil-seed rape was harvested at the end of July with an average yield of 2.9 tonnes/ha. This may be below the national average but as we use the autocast method of establishment we expect slightly lower yields. However, due to savings on establishment costs our gross margin is still quite reasonable at approximately £584/ha.
Wheat was harvested in the first week of August, one of the earliest harvest dates ever here. In contrast to the oil-seed rape our yields were affected by the drought conditions with a disappointing average yield of 8.6tonnes/ha. We use a variety called Scout here which is a soft milling wheat used for biscuit making. This variety was chosen as it is resistant to damaging attacks by insect pests, but as a result does have a yield penalty. Sales are still ongoing, but so far we have been selling at approximately £172/tonne which is very pleasing.
The spring beans were disappointing yet again. Despite changes in establishment methods we continually struggle to produce acceptable yields of this crop. This years crop was affected by the drought, but much worse was the aphid infestation that decimated many pods and plants. We did harvest about 90 tonnes, which was better than feared, but as things stand the economics of cropping spring beans here are marginal at best. However the biodiversity benefits and the considerable savings on fertiliser inputs over our 4-year cropping cycle, and hence reduced greenhouse gas emissions, for us balance this poor financial return. This is under constant review though.
Crop establishment started during harvest. Cultivations in the fields started very quickly after oil-seed rape harvest and our oil-seed rape for harvest 2012 was broadcast into the standing wheat crop just prior to harvest. Initially the oil-seed germinated and grew quickly, but signs of stress soon began to show through nutrient and water deficiencies. Instead of healthy and luscious green plants we had yellow and purple leaved plants. Never a good sign. However, the root systems are good and after a little rain in early November the plants have perked up and are now green again. We’re confident that this slow development won’t be carried over to poor yield next July.
The battle against blackgrass delayed drilling of our wheat. Blackgrass is a pernicious grass weed that if allowed to grow unchecked can severely reduce wheat yields. The armoury of chemicals that can be used to combat this has been reduced in recent years through stiffer regulations. On top of this ‘our’ blackgrass has become resistant to many of the remaining chemicals so part of our control relies on effectively dealing with flushes of this grass before drilling the wheat. A lack of rain during September delayed blackgrass germination and the wheat wasn’t drilled until 5th October. As I write this though the wheat is developing well and our skylark plots are easily identifiable in the fields.
So all we need now is rain, and lots of it. Come on Scotland, Ireland and Wales – share your rain with us soon!