The weather has not been particularly kind to us since I wrote the last notes. We have had a succession of small weather fronts passing over and enough heavy showers to keep the land we had ready for drilling rather too damp for comfort. Breezy days have dried the surface out but not long enough for us to get the last two fields in with wheat. We have taken the decision to leave the last 25 acres for additional spring barley. It is a cheaper crop to grow and is quite likely to produce more profit than a poor crop of wheat.
Temperatures have also been unseasonally warm, particularly at night. This has helped the rape establish well but has also led to an explosion of disease in it. Our agronomist has, for many years, been advocating fungicide sprays in the autumn and we have sometimes taken the attitude that we will do it if we get round to it. Not this year. The discolouration of the leaves due to phoma could be seen from the sprayer cab so it has all had a protective spray. There is also a danger that aphids are spreading Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus in the cereal crops, but in the soggy conditions the sprayer will make a mess so we are hoping for some cold nights.
The price of cereals and rape does not improve as the season draws on. World stocks of grain remain good and I fear we cannot expect much change in return for the next couple of years at least. A few years ago Charles and I replaced ploughing with non inversion tillage to improve timeliness and reduce the cost of establishing rape and wheat. We are starting to look seriously at the next step in establishing our crops more cheaply – strip tillage. In this technique, immediately after combining, the field is given a fast light cultivation to get grain and weed seeds to germinate and possibly a second pass a couple of weeks later. The weeds are sprayed off and a drill is used to sow the seed which cultivates a narrow slot for the seed to be placed in, but does not move the rest of the soil. This greatly reduces the time taken to establish the crop, the amount of metal worn and fuel used. There are many possible snags though such as increased slug activity and the danger of the dreaded black grass not being killed off. The system is widely used in other parts of the world with considerable success but in Australia and America they do not expect the level of yield that we are used to here. Maybe we are going to have to go down the route of low cost, low yields like they have been used to for years. The technique should improve the activity of soil microorganisms which are damaged by ploughing or deep cultivation. One only has to look at the hundreds of gulls following the plough to realise the quantity of earthworms they are eating. By not inverting the soil, these earthworms are safe to continue aerating the soil and turning plant matter into nutrients for the next crop. There is always something different to consider in the farming world.