Most things in the garden appear rosy for our northern-based agronomist, who reckons crops are well set for the new season. Dominic Kilburn writes.
What a difference 12 months make, says North Yorkshire based AICC agronomist Andrew Fisher, speaking during the second week in November. Even the Cumbrian guys are all drilled and sprayed up, he pointed out, and in such stark contrast to last autumn when wet weather dominated, and crops went into less than ideal seedbeds. “This season the soil is in much better shape and crops have been drilled in perfect conditions,” he added.
Looking back at harvest, Andrew said that, generally speaking, crops yielded OK in spite of the conditions, however winter beans suffered most from the drought. As a consequence, he reckoned there may be a reduction in the area of winter beans on farms, and sourcing quality bean seed has been difficult.
“The biggest problem this autumn was holding back growers drilling on black-grass affected land,” he said. “Understandably they got a bit nervous when it rained in the early autumn, worried that it would set in and drilling would grind to a halt. But a couple of damp weekends held them back nicely and they were then able to get on with drilling after that.
With almost all winter wheat in the ground, including land following potatoes, autumn herbicide applications also went well, applied in ideal conditions with sufficient moisture for residuals.
Andrew suggested that oilseed rape had been a little more problematic, however despite one or two crops being “touch and go during establishment but making it through in the end”, his grower base only lost one field to flea beetle. “That crop was sown after fallow and came through in very dry conditions in mid-September and was attacked immediately by flea beetle” he explained.
“There’s no particular reason I can think of as to why that field was targeted – some areas were completely unaffected.
“Where manure was applied pre-drilling then this made a difference in getting the crop up and away quickly and beyond the threat of flea beetle, and chicken manure has helped crops in particular,” he said.
Andrew pointed out that several of his farmers are looking to get soil analysis carried out, particularly in light of potential post-Brexit stewardship requirements for a better understanding of soil fertility.
As it was an early harvest this year, more soil analysis than usual was completed ahead of autumn cultivations but he will continue offering the service over the winter months and into the spring.
“One of the things I have noticed from testing so far this autumn is that lime deficiency is a factor on several farms,” he said. “The wet weather last winter is a probable cause but, generally, input levels have been neglected somewhat over the past few years.
“Phosphate indices are also lower than expected on one or two farms that have pigs, and perhaps we’ve back-peddled a little too much in terms of bagged phosphate where slurry applications haven’t been sufficient.
“Indexes have been dropping below 2 and they need to be 2 and over,” he added.
According to Andrew, one or two growers employing min-till regimes have been applying DAP (di-ammonium phosphate) and some nitrogen to kick-start crops this autumn and to help build phosphate reserves.
Away from the field work, he recently attended a meeting organised by Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency, outlining nitrate research undertaken by the University of Leeds in water aquifers on the Yorkshire Wolds.
“They are trying to establish what percentage of nitrates are left over from applications made to land as long ago as the 1940s, and what percentage is from relatively recently-applied bagged or muck fertiliser.
“The aim of the research in the long term is to be able to better advise farmers in terms of fertiliser applications, potentially saving them money while improving water quality.”
Andrew Fisher can be contacted via email: [email protected], or tel: 07836711918.