Neil Buchanan - A year in which we need to deliver

Article taken from the Arable Farming

I enjoy September.  A new crop year looms and with it comes the chance to start the whole cycle again.  With harvest pretty well completed, the challenge of new crops, new ideas and new land starts to take shape.

Careful thought should be given to sorting out those key rotational issues created last autumn.  Clearing those sub-optimal ‘eyesore’ fields we have all endured for the last 12 months has come as a welcome relief and all will hope for an autumn which allows us to get back on track.

Harvest results are best described as a very mixed bag.  For some, quite pleasing, while for others they have been a confirmation of what was expected.  Wheat crops with a weak root structure were unable to withstand the final insult of a July heatwave.  Winter barley generally fared much better, but the variation returned with the spring crop.

What remained of the winter oilseed rape crop generally disappointed.  The combination of thin, backward and weedy crops was not a happy one and future decisions concerning crop viability will now be more clear cut.

The temptation to crack on with groundwork and sowing will be extremely strong in light of last year, but some points are worthy of a mention.

Whatever your preferred method of establishment, the soil in your fields took some severe punishment last season.  Even with the help of Mother Nature, some remedial action will be needed to restore its structure and integrity.  Some time spent with a spade will quickly highlight any problems, but the pressure on timeliness can sometimes be overwhelming.  Find the time, it will be worth it.  Make sure your soil protection review reflects this.

Routine soil analysis slipped back after last autumn and this should be addressed.  Nutrition needs an accurate baseline to be effective.

No-one doubts the benefits of stale seedbeds, but using them to full advantage in the last two seasons has been very difficult.

This year, I feel more optimistic.  Weed burdens are going to be high and good results likely to be achieved.  Any cultural method which will help ease the pressure on herbicide efficacy is sensible.

Do not underestimate the role of realistic seed rates in helping to achieve weed control aspirations.  Adequate crop competition can be a strong ally.


Bearing this in mind check germination and vigour of over-yeared seed.  Quality from last year was low and initial indications show it has slipped further.  To ignore this issue could serious threaten potential.

Choice of variety always encourages lively discussion and the search for the next big barn filler continues apace.  This year see 16 wheat varieties up for recommendation and we will soon know the outcome.  However, I wonder how relevant some of data will be, given the extreme vagaries of the weather.

I will stick to varieties I understand and trust, as I remain wary of unnecessary risks in a year where we need to deliver.  Milling or feed is a question still often asked and where soil type is more marginal, a high specification premium is often worthwhile.

Quality is not guaranteed, but extra attention to detail is vital.  Despite the weakness of current crop values, I remain sure they will recover and the key to success in 2014 starts here and now.

Agronomist facts
  • Neil Buchanan is an Agrovista agronomist based in Shropshire.  He advises clients across the West Midlands, growing cereals, oilseed rape, pulses and potatoes


27 September 2013

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