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Arable

Pointing the way to cultivation and establishment efficiency Cultivation trends, drilling dates and achieving the best soil conditions for optimum establishment and weed control were among the subjects under the spotlight at ProCam’s recent series of Open Days. Farmers Guide brings you this report.

ploughing climbed to 30 per cent or so.” The rest of the cultivations carried out in the analysis is made up of a small but steady use of direct drilling.

Soil condition

ProCam technical director Dr Tudor Dawkins.

Regardless of soil type, there’s been a huge rise in the use of minimum cultivations over the last 15 years suggests the latest analysis of ProCam’s 4cast arable facts database. By and large, that’s been at the expense of ploughing with the company’s top 25 per cent of farms adopting minimum tillage techniques at an even higher rate than others, says the company’s technical director Dr Tudor Dawkins. “The drive for greater efficiency, the need for better timeliness and the shrinking agricultural workforce all had a role to play in this shift,” he says. “And although minimum cultivations is a broad term for a whole range of field operations working at different depths, from just scratching the surface to the use of heavy discs, it has largely allowed

farmers to achieve their financial and workload objectives.” Although 4cast showed a proportion of growers turning to the plough once again in 2013, the last two years analyses have seen the move to minimal tillage regain its momentum, he says. “The growth in maize area and the need to bury any crop trash to prevent the spread of fusarium was a factor and many growers tried ploughing again to reduce blackgrass a couple of years ago. “But it depends on the year – 2014 saw a big rise in minimal tillage again to the highest levels we’ve seen in the past 15 years at around 70 per cent of all arable land in 4cast, with ploughing down to just 25 per cent. “In 2015, minimal tillage dropped slightly to around 65 per cent and

Whatever the preferred cultivation method, growers need to focus more on soil conditions and what they can do to optimise them, Tudor Dawkins says. “Many arable producers have still got the legacy of some very wet years to sort out. As well as high grass weed populations, soil structure problems are widespread.” Growers should investigate soil issues, especially in known damp patches and boggy areas, or where standing water has been obvious. “On fields that have been cleared, there is an opportunity to go and dig holes, clear ditches and check drains. Knowing if the water can drain away is a good start.” The next step is to take a closer look at the top 15–20cm of soil, he advises. “If compaction is the problem rather than drainage, then there will be platey structures in the cultivations layer. Just pushing a fork into the ground will give you some idea of the level of resistance that roots might be encountering. “A more sophisticated approach is to use a penetrometer (a device that measures soil strength) which provides a value of soil resistance which can be used to assess likely restriction to root penetration.” Winter wheat is more tolerant of compaction, followed by oilseed rape, then legumes and finally root crops, he reveals. “Compaction can still cause a 10–15 per cent reduction in wheat yields. But in beans, that figure can

ProCam’s head of crop production Nick Myers.

be as high as 60 per cent.” Where there’s a joint need to correct soil structure and reduce the grass weed burden, careful thought must be given to the depth of any ploughing or remedial work, he advises. “To correct soil structural problems such as plough or cultivation pans, ascertain depth of the problem and work just below the problem. Any deeper will consume unnecessary fuel adding to the cost of the remedial treatment. “Burying black-grass seed can have an immediate impact, as it only tends to emerge from the top 5-10cm. So burying it to a depth of 15cm is usually effective.” However, for black-grass control, the seed needs to remain buried for three years, stresses Dr Dawkins. “That’s important because you don’t want to bring up old seed which may still be viable. So if you ploughed in the previous two years, you need to think about where the seed will end up. That may mean ploughing deeper to keep the seed from being returned to the surface layers.”

22 www.farmersguide.co.uk August 2016

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August 2016  

Farmers Guide Magazine August 2016 Issue

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