Farmer Focus – Alex Shutes

It’s now been well over a year since I wrote my first Farmer Focus piece and I have continued to learn as I go on with our strip-tillage system having had some good and not so good results on the way.

As with a lot of farming much can depend on the weather, and despite the strip-till systems ability to conserve moisture the summer of 2016 was so dry here that we lost 40 of our 70 acres of OSR to lack of moisture and slugs that refused to come above ground to eat the Sluxx pellets I had kindly provided them, preferring instead to feast on my chitting OSR seed. Cover crops went a similar way with so little moisture to get them growing it was about an 80% failure overall.

With that in mind our OSR drilling had a slight change in mindset where we planned to only drill with rain almost certainly on the forecast rather than aiming more for a specific date, switching back to higher seed rates of conventional seed, to put liquid N+ P down with the seed to give it a boost, double roll at different angles if necessary and putting Ferric Phosphate slug pellets down with the seed. This was implemented in the summer of 2017 with good results in terms of crop establishment, only harvest this year will tell us how we have really got on.

Our move to Volume Hybrid barley for the first time last harvest gave us our best ever yield of winter barley on the farm, the crop looked great all year and did 9.4t/ha, it seemed to be about the only crop that didn’t suffer to much in the dry spring! For harvest this year I have changed variety to Bazooka to hopefully push that even more but the wet winter and early spring, plus combine and trailer wheelings from a wetish harvest doesn’t look to have done it many favours, however, I may yet be suprised.

Our Claire 1st wheats did ok again for us last harvest though I’m still waiting on final lorry loads to calculate total tonnage. JB Diego 2nd wheats were disappointing, they were badly affected by the long dry spell in the late spring where they were on lighter land which pulled the average down to only just over 7.5t/ha. This year I have switched away from Diego and gone for the higher yielding KWS Kerrin as a 2nd wheat which looks good so far and the weather this spring is proving better for maintaining potential yield so far with some good rain events and nice spells of sunshine!

Propino spring barley also had its last year here for harvest 2017, the difficult growing season last spring (and perhaps a lack of PGR in hindsight) caused the crop to brackle over badly so I estimated we lost possibly 1t/ha on the floor from the combine chopping heads off underneath the knife. Speaking to other farmers we weren’t the only ones to have this issue and still managed 5.5t/ha. Another variety switch has been made this time to KWS Irena for this year for its improved lodging and straw stiffness scores as well as greater yield potential. It looks great so far despite not being drilled till the 3rd week of April. We also used our liquid fert system, that was installed on the drill for using on the OSR, to place 200l/ha of 14-7-7 to see what difference it would make. In terms of yield, we won’t know till harvest, but establishment had a very visible difference with the few test areas I turned the fertiliser off were considerably behind in growth once the roots took up the placed fertiliser. 5 weeks after drilling and there is still a noticeable height difference between the two areas although they are now all they same dark green colour whereas the non-liquid fert areas had been a much paler green for a few weeks. I’m very interested to see what this brings at harvest.

Spring beans managed 3.8t/ha and didn’t all make human consumption quality, another victim of last springs drought. We have them in the ground again this spring though I am looking at alternatives as Blackgrass control is not good in them, though the 1st wheats after look very good this year!

Other developments include a new combine, with a wider header, so fewer wheelings, and a chaff spreader so even more improved trash distribution. I’m looking forward to getting it stuck into this years crops!

Claire 1st wheat after spring beans, stubble raked, sprayed off and drilled @200kg/ha on 10/10/17.

New liquid fert nozzles (red cap) and stainless steel holders putting liquid fert down mixed in with the seed before being covered up.

Filling up with liquid fert whilst drilling spring barley.

KWS Irena spring barley receiving some Manganese. Drilled @220kg/ha on the 24/4/18, versatility of the DTS showing as this land was ploughed as a reset due to ruts at harvest and building work. Had been ploughed the previous year as well so this field has yet to be fully converted into strip-till. Flexability is key at times.