December 2021 Update from Backboath

There is little to no field activity at Backboath at this time of year, however, utilising the quieter time of year can provide an opportunity to review crop establishment and soil health. This is the latest update from Backboath as of 17th December 2021.

Crop Establishment

Hugh has been reviewing his establishment methods following potatoes and has used his modified subsoiler drill to break up compaction and sow the subsequent crop of wheat. Hugh has been adapting this system for several years now and has added a third coulter behind each cultivation leg to reduce his row spacing. Using non-inversion tillage after potatoes can help to keep ground keepers on the soil surface to increase the destruction of tubers, preventing volunteer potatoes in future crops.

On the left-hand side, a field of wheat at Backboath established after potatoes, potatoes are visible on the soil surface. On the right-hand side is a picture of wheat seedlings and their roots.

Hugh has been using the same drill for establishing his oilseed rape, however, the seed is scattered behind the tines, instead of being placed in coulters. Hugh deliberately leaves his stubbles long if the field is to be planted in oilseed rape to deter pigeons landing on the clear areas of ground.

Winter oilseed rape established behind a subsoiler drill.

Likewise, this drill has been used to establish wheat after beans. Although the establishment of the wheat has been successful, Hugh has found that the number of volunteer beans on the end-riggs is noticeable and is most likely due to header losses when combining. These beans have a significant root system; however, they are not at a density to provide competition to the wheat plants. In previous years Hugh has noticed that severe frosts can kill volunteer spring beans and he is therefore not worried about controlling these weeds with chemical. Additionally, Hugh has a flock of sheep arriving in January to graze his winter cereals and he plans to graze the field with the volunteer beans, so what the frost doesn’t kill, the sheep will!

Winter wheat established after spring beans, with several volunteer beans present at the edges of the field. The bands of 3 coulters are clearly visible.

Checking the soil

Although the soils are a little wet due to recent weather, Hugh has taken some time to investigate his soil structure in the fields planned for spring crops. Hugh has seen a large increase in the number of worms he is finding and is also noticing less compaction in his fields.

Compact soil from a tramline on the left, with a well-structured soil from the main part of the field on the right.

The picture above highlights the difference between a trafficked area of the field and an area which has not been driven on. The left-hand block is angular and has a clear fracture line at a 5cm depth. Additionally, there were fewer worm holes in this block. On the right hand side, the soil from the field has a crumb structure and was easy to break apart as highlighted in the photos below.

Angular aggregates on the left indicating compaction, rounded crumbly aggregates on the right indicating a healthy soil.

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