“Don’t do the same thing and expect a different result”

Lincolnshire grower Andrew Ward is getting the better of black grass with hand rouging.

Andrew grows winter and spring wheat, spring barley, spring oats, oil seed rape, sugar beet and grass for haylage across 650ha of owned, tenanted and contracted land. His soils are a mix of very heavy clay, right through to very sandy light soil over limestone.

What are your main challenges?

Our number one problem is blackgrass. We really started to hit it hard five years ago and we have just had our fourth blackgrass-free harvest.

How have you dealt with blackgrass?

We used to grow winter wheat across 50% of our land, now it’s 21-22%. Instead, we do more spring cropping, which has a huge benefit. About 4% of the farm was spring cropped before – now 41% is.

We don’t drill any winter wheat until the last week in October, only grow high-tilling winter wheat varieties, and use high seed-rates to outcompete the blackgrass.

We employ a gang from Lithuania to hand rouge (hand weed) the whole farm, costing about £53/ha on average across the farm. They work six days a week for three weeks to catch the blackgrass between it reaching the top of the crop and seeding.

The operation costs about £25,000-30,000, but our herbicide use has dropped. Our total cost of blackgrass control is £90/ha on winter wheat fields, including herbicides and hand rouging,  compared to £230-240/ha if we were just relying on chemicals.

What have you learnt?

A lot of farmers carry on doing what they’ve always done – but if you want to beat blackgrass you have to change your system. The reason you have a problem is because you’re always doing the same thing and relying on one crop is wrong.

Soil has a memory – it never forgets how it’s worked. We cultivate heavy soils straight behind the combine, so we work it dry and we work all our fields in August for spring cropping so they are cultivated dry.

We also incorporate straw and sewage sludge –  organic matter is building up and our soils are now in a better condition with all these methods.

Our land performed well this season, despite the dry summer – spring cereal yields were disappointing, but winter wheat yields were exceptional at 11.4t/ha.

Find out more about Andrew’s approaches at The CropTec Show on 28 and 29 November where he will be part of a panel discussion on improving soils.

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