An Update From Growers Club Member, Ian Willox

We know how our varieties perform in trials but what’s even more important is how they perform on farm, and that’s where our Growers Club comes in.

This month we catch up with Lincolnshire grower Ian Willox, whose crops are looking a whole lot better than they did a year ago.

CF & IG Willox, Birchwood Farm, Saxilby, Lincolnshire.

· Area farmed: 200ha of owned and contract-farmed land, plus additional contracting work

· Soil types: Blowing sand to clay

· Key crops: Winter wheat, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, winter beans, spring barley, sugar beet, miscanthus

· Cultivations: Plough before winter barley and sugar beet. Other cultivations – as required.

· RAGT varieties: RGT Gravity, RGT Lantern, RGT Planet.

Things may not be perfect at Birchwood Farm, but at least most of the crops that Ian Willox intended to drill last autumn are up and away.

It’s a very different picture from this time last year when the farm had received its 30mm (21 in) of annual rainfall in just five months. Autumn planting was practically non-existent.

Then came the prolonged spring drought, which severely limited the potential of spring barley and sugar beet to help turn things around.

“Fortunately we are in a much better place now,” says Ian. “We managed to get a good start and got all our oilseed rape and most of our wheat in the ground early on.”

He took the decision to stick with oilseed rape after seeing very few flea beetles at harvest. “We also had a decent amount of moisture in the seedbed. We used a tried-and-tested conventional variety and increased the seed rate to 5kg/ha to make sure we had plenty of plants. Much to my delight and surprise, it seems to have worked.”

The crop looks well and there is no sign of larvae in the plants at this stage. “I think our OSR policy will be more hand-to-mouth from now on,” says Ian. “If things look favourable for quick emergence and early growth then we’ll take the risk, but if beetles return and seedbeds are bone dry we might think again.”

He’s tempted to try some RGT Beetleblocker next summer, a mix of fenugreek, berseem clover and RGT Blackmillion oilseed rape, to see if the companion plants will help. “We need to keep an open mind. Flea beetle will return and the chemical armoury is dwindling.”

Ian’s 32ha of RGT Gravity wheat grown from overwintered seed and drilled in late September looks as good as anything on the farm.
RGT Gravity

“It’s done us very well in the past – while there are two or three varieties that yield a bit more now, I don’t think jumping into the latest ones every year is necessarily right. If a variety works on the farm its worth sticking to it – that can be worth a few additional percentage points of yield.”

Some RGT Gravity followed OSR, the rest was drilled after a multi-species cover crop sown on land that was too wet to be spring cropped.

“The cover crop grew like mad, so we flailed it then disced it before drilling the wheat. I thought we had dropped a clanger as there was so much foliage, but the cover drew out moisture and put some structure and organic matter into the soil.

“The Gravity got its roots down and looks a treat now, though so does some after the rape. It will be interesting to see which fares best if we get a dry time.”

Ian is trying a 7ha block of RGT Lantern this season, drilled on 5 October. It features solid disease resistance scores and orange wheat blossom midge resistance, and has excellent lodging resistance and can be drilled early.

RGT Lantern

The variety also establishes well and is competitive against grass weeds, with a semi-prostrate growth habit in the autumn and plenty of tillers in spring.

“We have a blackgrass problem here, which is just about manageable, but any help we can get is gratefully received,” says Ian.

“OWBM resistance is always a bonus and the variety has reasonable disease resistance scores.

“It went into a field that had a new drainage scheme last year, but it is still settling down so it stood rather wet. Nevertheless the crop came up well.”

Ian also has 12ha of RGT Planet earmarked. ‘We’ve started growing spring barley mainly for blackgrass control. We also rent some land near the Trent that gets very wet in the winter.

“We’d go on February if we could, but I don’t expect we’ll start before March. We can plough and drill the land pretty quickly so there’s no immediate hurry.”

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