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April 2021 Update from Castleton Farm

An Update from Castleton

Despite the catchy weather Ross has made great progress with spring work, with some earlier sown spring barley already emerging. Below are several observations from 5th April 2021.

Remaining cover crops

Although most of the cover crops at Castleton have been terminated and sown with spring crops, Ross has left one field intact. The cover crop included a mix with buckwheat, vetch and tillage radish and although the buckwheat has all died the vetch continues to grow. Alongside the vetch, the tillage radish roots remain intact within the soil, with only the tops of the plant’s dead after a series of frosts in March. When digging up the cover crop to inspect the plants, there were many worms present, especially around the roots. Alongside the benefits underground, the soil protection on top was visibly working. These photos were taken on a very windy day, where soil was blowing off neighbouring fields, however, the cover crops were providing the protection required to keep the ground moist.

Trials with rock dust

Ross has also experimented with Rock Dust this year. Rock Dust is finely ground rocks, usually granite or in Ross’ case basalt. It is applied to fields due to its high mineral content, which is claimed to increase worm activity following application. Ross applied this ground basalt at 2t/ac (5t/ha) and is monitoring its effects on the following crops.

Climate change report

Alongside Ross’ busy schedule with farm work, he has also been contributing to the Arable Climate Change Group Report, which is a transitional document designed to aid Scottish Agriculture transition to net zero. A full copy of the report can be found here.

Cover crop destruction

Ross has terminated most of his cover crops using grazing sheep, followed with a spray of glyphosate. This has provided effective destruction of the covers, however, even the dead plant material is still playing a role in soil protection. Establishing spring crops into the mat of plant material has provided Ross’ soil with protection from heavy rain showers, and most importantly strong winds. His spring barley is just beginning to emerge through the mat of plant material and Ross says that the dead covers did not affect sowing the crop at all.

Emerging spring barley following a cover crop which was grazed with sheep.

Stripper Header follow up

In the autumn of 2020, Ross trialled a stripper header. Subsequently, Ross established a crop of beans into a stripped field of barley and a crop of wheat into a stripped crop of wheat. Following these crops through the winter, the wheat in the parts of the field where the stripper header has been used are more advanced than the areas of the field where the straw was chopped. This may be due to more protection from the elements from the standing straw, or due to the reduced amount of nitrogen lock up that chopped straw can cause due to its high nitrogen content.

Farming For a Better Climate - Winter wheat sown into stripped wheat (left) and chopped straw (right)

Winter wheat sown into stripped wheat (left) and chopped straw (right)

Both areas of wheat pictured above were sown on the 25th September 2020 and are the variety Elation. Furthermore, they both had 40kg/ha nitrogen (N), followed by a secondary application of 100kg/ ha N. Ross has also noticed that the slug pressure is far greater in the wheat sown into the chopped straw, to combat this Ross applied slug pellets to this areas of the field.

Winter Beans

Nevertheless, the beans following the barley have not survived the winter as strong as hoped for. Large patches of the beans turned black and have since died. In this field two drills were trialled and one of them was struggling to cope with the quantity of straw, this may have caused the beans to be sown at a shallow depth, potentially making them vulnerable to the frosts. Furthermore, there has been some crow damage where the birds have picked out the seeds. This fields will be monitored going forward.

Winter beans looking patchy, these were sown into stripped barley straw and have suffered from hard winter frosts

Winter beans looking patchy, these were sown into stripped barley straw and have suffered from hard winter frosts.