Early Start to Autumn Drilling at Heathcote Farms

The bulk of the autumn drilling programme has been completed on the heavy clay soils at Heathcote Farms near Toddington in Bedfordshire, despite the return of heavy rain over the past few weeks.

About 380ha of winter wheat was in the ground by 23 September, but the drill has not moved since. The remaining 70ha of wheat ground is now earmarked for RGT Planet spring barley after a successful first year with the variety.

“We were going to give RGT Saki a try, but we don’t envisage any more wheat will be going in unless there is a prolonged dry spell,” says sprayer/drill operator Matt Fuller.

“We wouldn’t usually drill wheat so early but autumn 2019 was still fresh in our minds."

The ground looked clean as far as blackgrass was concerned – the only winter crop we had last season was oilseed rape.

“We did leave patches where we know blackgrass is bad, so we can treat them over the winter. The rest looks OK.”

No oilseed rape

OSR has been dropped. It would have had to follow spring wheat, beans or barley this season, delaying drilling until September.

“We always get a better result from August sowings,” says Matt. “It was also very dry at the time, and we found out that we had a high level of resistance in our flea beetle population, with one sample being almost 100% resistant. All in all we would have been putting something in the ground over which we had no control.”

The aim is to replace OSR with crops that won’t delay harvest unduly and that will provide a good entry for wheat. About 80ha of winter linseed was drilled before the wheat and has emerged well. Peas and oats are being added to the spring cropping line-up, alongside spring beans and RGT Planet.

Faultless performance

“We can’t fault the RGT Planet on this season’s performance,” says Matt. “It went into drying conditions at 400 seeds/m2 on predominantly heavy clay at the end of March, and we got fantastic germination and emergence – the crop never looked back.”

It received a phosphorus primer at drilling to help encourage rooting, as well as the bulk of fertiliser to make the most of the moisture that was there. This was followed by a comprehensive trace element programme.

RGT Planet at Heathcote Farms

“We didn’t spend too much – the plants were very healthy so we were able to trim our fungicide bills. And we had very little rain between drilling and late June – when it did arrive the crop was perfectly set up.”

The first 70ha of RGT Planet averaged 9.1t/ha at 12% moisture content, before very wet and windy weather delayed combining by 10 days. The remaining crop lodged and lost quite a lot of heads, trimming the final average to 8.69t/ha.

Wet weather delayed combining but overall quality was good

Surprising yield

“Overall we were very happy with the result,” says Matt. “We pushed it for feed and ended up with a surprisingly good yield and quality.”

The plan is to follow the entire 105ha that was down to RGT Planet with beans next spring, to provide a double break to maintain pressure on blackgrass.

The crop of RGT Planet never looked back

“We had heard from other people how good spring barley was for blackgrass control, and RGT Planet was vigorous and competitive,” says Matt.

“Seeing how it worked first hand was pretty convincing. This is where we see spring barley fitting into our system in the future.”

To learn more about RGT Planet download the latest datasheet.

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