As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Tillage focus has improved grass-weed control
by Arable Farming
As the Bayer/Anglia Farmers 5×5 Project draws to a close, we review some of the key findings. Arable Farming reports.
A lot can happen in half a decade.
During the period of the Bayer/ Anglia Farmers 5×5 Project, there have been significant changes in the operations of some of the five participating farms.
But as the project concludes, progress has been made in identifying and addressing the key issues influencing blackgrass control on each trial field.
Bayer commercial technical manager Bob FitzGerald, who has overseen the project, says: “No field has got worse and some have improved – all remain in production.
“Improvements in rotation – more spring cropping – and better cultivation systems, such as minimal disturbance, are the big contributors.
“Four of the five fields had two spring crops in the six-year rotation and one had three.
Cambridgeshire Leonard Stamper, of Salome Lodge Farm, Huntingdon, is one who has shifted to shallow cultivation to improve blackgrass control.
He says: “On the trial field and much of our other land, we have moved to just tilling the soil surface using a Horsch Joker shallow disc cultivator and then drilling with a Vaderstad Rapid.
“Reducing soil movement in this way has helped a lot, although over-consolidation from the press wheels and consequent drainage issues caused when turning the drill on the headlands remains an issue.
Partially-emerged crop lets in black-grass, but elsewhere strong crop emergence has helped suppress it.”
Poor autumn weather meant that twice over the five years the farm was forced to abandon winter cropping plans on the trial field and switch to a spring crop, adds Mr Stamper.
“While they might not have been as profitable for us as a winter wheat, they proved a marvellous opportunity for black-grass control.
In 2019-20 the intended winter wheat couldn’t be drilled, so we planted spring beans instead and made the most of the opportunity for out-of-crop control.
“Drilled at a high seed rate, they yielded well.
We find the crop generally produces more than five tonnes/hectare.
“While we haven’t grown spring wheat for a long time, after having spring barley loads rejected for high nitrogen, this year we drilled 85ha of Mulika spring wheat.
I’d rather drill winter wheat early at the end of September and switch to spring if the later autumn weather turns bad than maul in winter wheat late in the wet.
Now we have the black-grass problem contained I can see it remaining in continuous winter/spring wheat under minimum tillage.”
At nearby Abbots Ripton Farming Company, recently retired farm manager Paul Drinkwater adopted a similar approach.
He says: “The plan for this land is to do as little ploughing and deep cultivation as possible to keep black-grass in the surface layer.
“We’ve made adjustments to our methods.
Before we were min-tilling at between five and six inches, but this has been reduced to 3-4in.
However, getting as shallow as some recommend is very tricky and perhaps equipment manufacturers could look at this.
The farm is fairly level but not perfectly