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August 2020 Update from Arable Ventures

An Update from Arable Ventures

 

Like many members of the Farming for a Better Climate group, James is experimenting with cover crops and their establishment. Below are a number of observations from August 2020.

Margin Establishment

This spring James decided to establish four or six meter species rich margins around almost all of his fields. The margins have established well, and the diverse range of species should provide a haven for insects and pollinators for years to come. James established more traditional grass species coupled with herbs and legumes.  The photo on the right shows one of the species rich field margins.

New Crops

Looking to extend and diversify his rotation, James has tried growing linseed for the first time. The winter linseed was desiccated on the 9th of August and is currently awaiting some dry weather so it can be harvested. However, harvesting and drying linseed can be challenging due to the shape and weight of the seeds. Linseed grows in pod, sometimes called ‘bowls’ or ‘shells’, each containing several seeds, the seeds themselves are small and flat. The lightness of the seeds makes blowing them out the back of the combine a real possibility. The flatness of the seeds means that they can compact, with little space for air to move through them making drying a challenge. A moisture content of approximately 8% is needed for safe storage. Nevertheless, James remains optimistic about the crop – determined to include as many species as possible in his rotation.

Cover crop establishment

Four out of five FFBC Soil Regen Ag farmers are experimenting with cover crops, with all 4 trying to establish covers into standing crops. James asked his neighbour to establish some cover crops for him using a modified sprayer, similar to Ross Mitchells at Castleton. However, James has also tried establishing covers with his John Deere 750A drill, an ultra-low disturbance drill and his new Claydon Strip-till drill. James has sown a mix of Vetch, Phacelia, oil radish, linseed and buckwheat.

Photos below show (left) A five-way mix sown using a JD750A into OSR stubble. This drill uses a disc to cut a small slot, only just visible in this photo, and (right), the same five-way mix sown into oat stubbles using the Claydon strip-till drill.

Reducing Inputs

James has also experimented with fungicide applications, opting to remove all fungicides on a 2.5ha field of wheat. However, James did spray the outside of the field with a full fungicide program to compare performance. As shown in the picture below, the unsprayed centre is slightly darker in colour which may indicate increased ear disease such as smuts. However, James noticed that both the sprayed and unsprayed areas remained green until grain filling had finished. James says: “season length is a challenge for us here, so if the crop can stay green for ear filling to ensure yield and then die back quickly it must be a good thing”. Once harvested, James will assess is there is any difference in yield and expenditure between the two plots.