April 2021 Update from Backboath

With spring sowing complete, and the weather too cool for planting potatoes, Hugh has taken the opportunity to get caught up on spring work while the ground conditions allow. Below is an April update from Backboath near Forfar.

Grazing Cereals

Hugh has grazed cereals throughout the winter, however as the crops begin to grow, the sheep have been removed. The photo below shows the line where Hugh had placed the electric fence. The crop nearest has been grazed, while the crop further away has not. Although the crop biomass has been reduced by the grazing, the wheat does not appear any further behind in terms of growth stage. As part of the H2020 project, looking at grazing cereals, this crop will be monitored for tiller numbers, biomass, and disease levels.

Winter wheat which has been grazed and ungrazed at Backboath.

Grazing cover crops

As the crops have begun to grow, Hugh moved the sheep into his last remaining field of cover crops before they are moved off farm. The cover crops have provided a surprising amount of fodder for the 300 sheep that Hugh has had grazing all winter. In hindsight, Hugh says he could have brought in many more sheep, potentially double the number he has had this year. This is primarily due to the early establishment of cover crops which has allowed better covers to be grown.

Sheep grazing Hugh’s last field of cover crops.

Winter Beans

Hugh’s attempt to maintain clover throughout his whole rotation to supply nitrogen to his cash crops has been tested with the establishment of the winter beans. Following the disturbance of the drill, the clover appeared to struggle in the autumn, however it has bounced back and is now growing strongly in the bottom of his bean crop. The control of weeds is a challenge in intercropping and the autumn application of Crawler (carbetamide) has managed to control many weeds, while the clover seems to have grown through it. Nevertheless, there are still some weeds present and it will be a case of monitoring this crop to see if a spring herbicide is required.

Adjacent to the clover trial, Hugh is also growing winter beans without a companion crop. Other group members beans have struggled with the cold weather, however at Carmyllie Hugh’s beans appear to have survived the winter well. Hugh first grew spring beans in 2020, and they yielded 4.6t/ha dried weight. Hugh hopes that he can beat this yield this year and is growing both winter and spring beans.

Winter beans at Backboath

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