Farmer Focus – David White

April 2023

As this magazine is entitled Direct Driller I’ll start off with a couple of drill comments.

The CO4 has had a set of replacement Dutch 2” tips fitted as the first set had worn very thin in places and changing the odd failed one resulted in uneven depth across the drill.  I’d deliberated over fitting another style of point but decided that I like the light disturbance that a 2” gives when drilling cover crops behind the combine covering beans for instance promoting better germination of volunteers. A little width of spread in the seed row also appears to close the 250mm row gap although whether this is a measurable advantage I don’t know.  There are times when I think a very narrow point such as the Metcalf would benefit me with its minimal disturbance, but I have an Avatar too so both options are covered.  Having had the Avatar a couple of seasons now its operation and setup has become more intuitive.  A couple of things I don’t like are that I still get an odd blocked coulter and I cant work out why which is annoying, shame blockage sensors are sooo expensive!  I don’t like the cluttered run screen layout which seems to repeat unnecessary information and restrict things I do want to see clearly and quickly. And finally, and only because I want to use rates for things outside the norm, I find I haven’t always got an appropriate seed rotor.  A low rate of companion beans is an example that would never have been an issue with the lovable ubiquitous Accord rotor.  Perhaps the clever people at Horsch could design one?

Having followed my first successful Bi-Cropping (if that’s what we’re calling it?) experiment with spring Boats this year’s winter version of Mascani with Tundra beans was similarly successful.  Again, these were grown with no post emergence inputs other than some Man-Mag nutrition and had a very favourable GM compared with the control of mono-crop Mascani. I see a big future for both bi-crops and companions grown with cereals in making our rotation and production more regenerative and its even being supported now with greening SFI ££s.  My inclusion of winter pea, vetch and beans came very well in the wheat crop last year and survived the pre-em herbicide without issue.  I didn’t get chance to repeat that this year due to time restrictions, but I see it standard practice going forward.  This aided by having multiple seed hoppers on the Avatar.

The one thing holding back wider adoption of “Bi” and “Com” cropping is the ability to clean and separate the harvest output on farm.  It’s disappointing that the latest round of grant funding is not helping to move this initiative on and whilst again there is the opportunity to have a new direct drill subsidised (again!) on farm seed cleaning machines don’t feature.  I’m now involved in starting a local cluster group and one of the things we are exploring is grant funding of a group mobile cleaner.  As part of this I’m in conversation with the terrific guys at McArthur Agriculture about building a higher spec mobile cleaner, more versatile than the one you may have seen at LAMMA.  This should be able to produce two clean grain fractions as well as course and fine waste.  Being able to fine clean at around 8t/h or so will remove the hesitation some of us have at broad acre bi-cropping our farms.

Sadly Glyphosate has been adopted as the whipping boy of the anti-pesticide greens throughout Europe.  Rarely do we attend a meeting where the “how are you going to direct drill without glyphosate” question isn’t asked.  The honest answer is I don’t know yet.  If we do lose it I know it will potentially be a huge detrimental step in my ability to build the natural capital in my conservation farm environment whilst maintaining profitability tipping my grain down the same hole and being paid the same as the global commodity priced “normal” stuff, huh!

So I’ve gone a little bit Wild, to be precise Wildfarmed.  I hadn’t got a trial this year which worried me, I have now.  I’ve planted 6ha of their spring milling wheat blend and am planning two more 6ha areas to form a new rotation.  Small scale you may say but enough to learn on.

The main reasons for going Wild.

  1. The growing standards stipulate no “cides” which includes glyphosate so I’ll have to learn how to grow without it. 
  2. Companions and bi-cropping is encouraged, yey! and the crop can be delivered entire, unsorted.
  3. I’ll be supplying a supply chain that recognises value and pays a premium, and be able to buy the bread in the shops.
  4. Other than the seed the spend will be negligible so no spray bills, double yey! However, we can use a limited amount of synthetic nitrogen if sap tests demonstrate the need.

Confession time.  More or less for the first time in seven years I’ve done a little bit of cultivating, non-yey.  Nothing like full inversion or very deep.  Even though the combination of a demo Horsch Cultro crimper and -10º frost did kill the cover crop there were some remaining grass weeds that I wanted to kill. *Thought bubble, Whist many of us in East Anglia were getting worried by the February drought I’ve rediscovered a dry period is fabulous/essential for drying out freshly disced up blackgrass plants.  A pass with the light disc machine in the frost followed by a well timed pass with the tine drill putting in the companion beans left a clean seedbed for the disc drilled wheat.  Whether all this disturbance will stimulate a bigger spring flush of broad-leaved weeds I don’t know but the true DD control strip I left should show.

Without being able to dip into the spray shed for a herbicide, forward planning for the Wild rotation will be important so consideration is already being made for managing the year two and three areas.  Herbicide residues may already have made establishing a clover living mulch difficult.  Should under-sowing something else in the spring barley on one of the areas which is still herbicide free be considered? Which frost intolerant cover crop species need to be considered for next year?  Will I need sheep? double non-yey!  All questions that can be answered by those more experienced than me on the very active Wild WhatsApp group.

*I wanted to; did I need to? In a diverse regenerative rotation using less synthetic nitrogen will a few grass weeds prove to be the problem they are when fuelled by 240kgs of N?