An update from two of our Growers Club members, Andrew Pitts and Ian Willox

Crops on the mainly heavy soils at The Grange look well considering the season, says Andrew.

Andrew Pitts, The Grange, Mears Ashby, Northamptonshire

He managed to sow 60% of his intended winter wheat area, including 140ha of RGT Skyfall and 28ha of RGT Gravity for seed, before calling an end to the drilling campaign in mid-October as the weather closed in.

All wheat, apart from a few waterlogged patches, made it through the winter and crops have picked up well since then, with leaf 2 emerging at the end of the first week of May.

The switch to direct drilling over the past six seasons made a big difference, says Andrew.

“Our soil structure had improved greatly into a high organic matter compaction-free growing medium."

“We managed to establish the winter crops we did last autumn without causing any damage to those soils, bar a few wet headlands. This means the roots should be able to follow the moisture down, certainly for a few weeks.

“Yield potential is down, but we’re very fortunate compared to some growers who were hit really hard last autumn. Provided it rains in June I’m hopeful we could get within 10% of last year’s yields, which were the best we’ve had.”

“We’ve got a bit too much blackgrass in places as we only managed to get a pre-emergence on – we were unable to apply Avadex or a post-emergence spray. It shows the value of stacking the actives.”

RGT Skyfall remains a firm favourite on the farm.

“It’s been absolutely phenomenal for us, and it looks to be putting in another strong performance. It’s been brilliantly consistent in the seven years we’ve grown it, whether as a commercial crop for milling or for seed.

“And RGT Gravity is a very very high yielding variety, which is why we grow it – it suits our farm very well indeed.”

After ‘good’ T0 and T1 fungicides , Andrew plans to use BASF’s new Revystar fungicide to give his wheats the best chance of performing. “We’ve got them this far, so there’s no point in cutting costs and risking potential at this stage,” he says.

Andrew also grows RGT Planet spring barley for seed, and has planted 120ha this spring. “It’s growing like the clappers – we got it into moisture and we had a shower to or two to help it along.”

He has replaced the missing winter wheat area with spring beans, to maximise his first wheat area this coming autumn and hopefully ‘counter the less-than-perfect financial performance’ this year.

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

Despite one of the toughest seasons he can recall, Ian Willox remains remarkably stoical.

Autumn drilling came to an abrupt halt at Birchwood Farm in the third week of September as the rain began. It hardly let up until well into the new year, by which time the farm had received over 530mm (21in) of rain, equivalent to the annual average.

He managed to drill about 48ha of oilseed rape and 16ha of wheat, all RGT Gravity, ahead of the deluge. Two thirds of the rape has since been lost, and 6ha of the wheat also failed to make it.

“When we were told to stop pumping into the Foss Dyke everything just backed up,” says Ian. “It’s the same for a lot of people around here and we weren’t hit as badly as some elsewhere. But some ground was under water for weeks.”

The surviving RGT Gravity has since pulled away.

“I’m hopeful we’ll end up with a reasonable yield,” says Ian.

He hopes the same will be true of the 48ha of spring barley, half of which is RGT Planet for feed. He managed to sow the barley at the start of April, the first time he’s grown the crop for years, but its potential is hanging in the balance. At the time of writing (8 May) about 60-70% had emerged.

“It’s struggling to get out of the ground. We’ve not had any rain for four weeks – we had too much in the autumn, and not enough in the spring – it was always going to happen.”

To help get his heaviest soil back into condition, and to maximise his area of first wheat next season, Ian has sown a 24ha block that was destined for winter beans with a catch crop consisting of several species to help improve drainage and add organic matter.

“We’re staying positive ­– there are a lot worse things happening in the world at the moment than what we’re going through,” he says.

“There’s always next season to look forward to.”

To find out more about our Growers Club visit our information page.

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