An update from two of our Growers Club members, Adrian Taylor and Sam Morris
Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Very mixed is how Oxfordshire farmer Adrian Taylor describes harvest prospects this season.
A protracted winter wheat drilling campaign due the wet autumn, followed by an exceptionally dry spring, has left its mark at Clattercote Priory Farm, Claydon, near Banbury.
Adrian did manage to drill all 100ha of Skyfall, grown on contract for Warburtons. It has all survived, though some fields have fared better than others.
“We managed to get 60ha sown in the second half of October with the strip-till drill and that is the best looking crop on the farm,” he says. “It should make a reasonable profit – the trouble is, there’s not enough of it.
“We didn’t manage to drill any more until December, and we finished in February. These crops would have been fine if we’d had more rain, even as late as three weeks ago, but we are still waiting – we missed most of the recent wet weather.”
His 120ha of Group 3 wheats, drilled in late autumn, have also suffered and about 30 have been taken out. All the farm’s RGT Illustrious was also ripped up.
“It went in well but had so much rain afterwards. The ground slumped and suffocated the seed.” About 100ha of spring wheat has replaced these areas, which hopefully will go for milling.
Adrian has cut back hard on inputs on the surviving winter wheat. “We didn’t do anything special with fungicides and Skyfall has not had its last nitrogen application. It needs it, but there’s no soil moisture to make it available.”
All the oilseed rape was hit hard by cabbage stem flea beetle larvae. “We had to draw a line under it – we’ll take another look in a couple of years. On easier ground we’ll probably grow peas, and I might well go back into borage on the rest.”
The area of spring oats has been increased to 100ha this season, and all look well despite the dry weather.
Soil structure has not suffered unduly on cropped areas, but Adrian has had to leave some areas of heavy high magnesium clay land uncropped on his contract-farming operation.
“This land consolidates easily, so we were was hoping to cover-crop this, but there’s not a lot of point when it’s been so dry. If it comes wet in time we’ll still plant something, otherwise it’ll be a case of shallow subsoiling ahead of the wheat. We are due to demo a low-disturbance subsoiler next week. ”
Looking ahead, Adrian will be sticking with his current varieties next season. “It’s not a year to be buying a lot in. Skyfall will make up the bulk of my wheats, and the rest will be Group 3s.”
He is looking forward to a fresh start this coming autumn. “It’s been a very frustrating year.
But we are hopeless optimists – that’s why we farm. Next season will be better.”
Most crops are holding up well on the heavy soils at Top Farm, Croydon, Cambridgeshire, says Sam Morris.
Some of that is down to luck, he admits. Nervous about the weather, he started drilling earlier than usual and completed his winter wheat programme by the end of October.
Group 4 heavyweight RGT Saki, which was fully recommended last autumn is the stand-out variety at the moment. Sam is trying 15ha of the variety this season ahead of its full commercial launch this autumn.
It was drilled at 200kg/ha after beans. “It is our best bit of wheat, though that's probably not completely fair on the others. As the season has been so awful it’s difficult to draw comparisons,” says Sam. “It was the first to be drilled, only because that’s the way the rotation worked out.
“It held on better than the others in the dry – the variety seemed to develop a little slower, which may have helped, though it has now largely caught up.”
Sam believes varieties such as RGT Saki are the future.
It features an exceptional fungicide-treated yield of 104, within 1% of the highest yielding variety on the Recommended List, as well as an impressive untreated yield score of 86 thanks to its solid agronomics and excellent disease resistance.
“We need to build more resilience and flexibility into our winter wheat programme by investing in good genetics,” says Sam. “Robustness, as well as high yields, is key.
“RGT Saki’s relatively high Septoria resistance score should be especially useful now we have lost chlorothalonil. The weather rarely plays ball, and we do a lot of contract spraying, which can affect timings on our own crops. Growing a variety that can be sprayed a bit later than the ideal has to be a bonus.”
RGT Saki is also a consistent performer as a first or subsequent wheat, which should suit his rotation of three wheats/two spring breaks. The variety’s relatively long drilling window is another key attraction, given Sam’s blackgrass concerns and contracting commitments.
While the winter wheats have benefited from earlier drilling and early nitrogen, spring crops have suffered.
“They’ve been hit by drought and are not looking at their best,” says Sam. “Beans look OK on the better land, but not so good elsewhere.
“We drilled 60ha of RGT Planet spring barley in mid March. Soil conditions weren’t ideal, so we missed out the second cultivation before drilling. The seed-bed was uneven and the deeper-sown seeds got away faster, and we’ve ended up with two crops in the same field.
“I’m hoping the recent rain will help even things up. If not we can manage it – we have plenty of drying capacity if some grain isn’t quite fit.
“We are a bit reliant on premiums without break crops – human consumption for the beans, and malting for barley. Without those premiums the rotation isn’t that profitable, so we will be doing as much as we can to make those markets.”
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