Maize is a high-value crop with a number of uses and so it is not surprising to see that the planted area is increasing year on year. With harvest now complete, it's a good opportunity to think about the learnings from this season as well as any steps you can take to reduce overwinter soil erosion and nutrient loss following removal of the crop.
As I begin to think about variable rate seed, I can't help getting out of my head that for the past year there has been a lot of talk of change and adapting within agriculture. The more I thought about it, I concluded (probably later than many others) that agriculture has always been a case of adapting whether it be to new products, new machinery, new guidance or the ever-changing weather.
With a bullish global fertiliser market pushing prices up as we approach the new season, the importance of soil sampling to help optimise inputs is arguably greater than ever before. When you combine this with the recent Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) release stating growers can be financially rewarded for monitoring and improving soil health, it's not surprising to learn that sampling is becoming a greater priority.
In the second blog of this soil management series, we review how catch and cover crops can play an integral role in post-harvest soil management, including the options available and how their inclusion can support stewardship. The first blog in this series focussed on pre-harvest soil management and you can read it here.
In the first blog of this soil management series, we're exploring why it's vital to start planning for soil management in autumn-drilled crops well in advance of planting; when the previous crop is still in the ground.
The low levels of sulphur we see today are not a new problem. Rather, it is something we've been aware of for over 30 years; ever since the first sulphur-deficient oilseed rape crops were seen on very light soils. Over time, this deficiency has progressed and now impacts virtually all crops and soil types. By looking at the factors that influence sulphur availability, you can make informed decisions and opt for products that match your crops' sulphur demand.
Since the rain has started to fall across the UK, I've had several people asking about the final nitrogen applications on a number of crops. Unsurprisingly, there's quite a lot to consider so we've put together a two-part blog series to help you address all of the key information.
In this first blog I've compiled some advice on final nitrogen decisions for the main arable crops, taking into account overall conditions we've seen this season and what they mean for final doses on oilseed rape, winter wheat and spring cereal crops.
Unpredictable weather seems to be the order of the day at the moment. After what was a very dry and cold April, May has brought about warmer temperatures and a considerable amount of rainfall. At Kings, much of our time had been spent advising growers not to drill wild bird seed and game cover crops too early but given the drastic change in weather, we're now finding that many simply cannot get onto plots because it is too wet.
Now that we are entering the peak planting window from mid-May through to mid-June, I've compiled some timely points of advice to help you make the most of the next four weeks.
If a production system experiences losses, its efficiency is going to be reduced. Often this can lead to a reduction in output too and, if losses are severe enough, even an increase to overall running costs.
If we look at this in relation to our fertiliser programmes the risks are similar, so preventing any losses can lead to some real gains. For example, by reducing the CO2e/t of production you could improve your margins and simultaneously benefit the environment.
With April quite literally around the corner and early nitrogen doses now applied, it's an opportune time to reflect on what's happened so far this season and factor in decisions for future applications. I believe it's always sensible to constantly question the fertiliser plans and programmes made earlier in the season and it's not to say they are wrong, it's to check they are still right!
For those of you managing shoots or overseeing any sporting activity, I don't doubt that you will have had an array of challenges to contend with. With so much change it can be difficult to think about what's next, but there's still plenty to get off the ground as we look ahead to 2021/2022. As the industry embarks on a whole-farm approach to environmental land management, the ways that farmers are paid to manage the land is changing and 2021 marks the start of a new chapter for environmental policy. For farms with sporting interests, there are some considerable benefits to be seen and a lot of food for thought.
At SOYL, we have been running an extensive precision farming research and development programme for nearly 30 years. The work is central to the value of our technology and services, and today we now possess one of the largest trial databases in the world. A significant part of this work involves trials to compare our variable rate application approach against flat rate applications.
It's one of the first questions we face from growers when discussing variable rate nitrogen (VRN) and it's understandable given sulphur is one of the major nutrients required by plants. If optimum amounts aren't available, it will have a direct impact on end yield.
As it happens, in nearly all of these conversations our recommendation to growers is to apply sulphur variably alongside their nitrogen in order to achieve optimum yields and quality. Of course, as with all nutritional decisions, some forward planning is required.
With this in mind, we're going to address some common questions to help you plan for the spring and ensure you get the maximum benefits from variably applying sulphur.
How we design and manage profitable, efficient crop rotations can be influenced by the use and management of available cover crop positions within them. When incorporated well, they can lead to the introduction of wider sustainable crop establishment systems, having the potential to gradually reduce some crop inputs and the overall cost of crop establishment.
If you have a good cover crop that has been successfully absorbing available nutrients, improving soil structure and supporting soil biota, you may be wondering what to do. First and foremost, careful thought and consideration is required when planning your next move.
With 2021 now underway, we are officially at the beginning of the end of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) era. The transition to the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme has started, and we're sure that many of you are wondering what this move is going to entail.
I'll admit that at first sight filling your tractor with oil and planning your nitrogen applications don't appear to have much in common but in one simple way they are very similar. Before you do both, you need to know how much you've already got in the tank or in the soil, so you know exactly how much more you need to put in.
When it comes to nitrogen applications, rates should only be decided once you have fully assessed the requirements of your crops. As well as thinking about inputs, this also means making an informed judgement on how much nitrogen will be supplied by your soils.
The nitrogen inputs to your crops can be one of the most important factors that influence crop output and, ultimately, the profitability of your business. There is a wealth of tools and information to help guide you when it comes to applying the optimum rate of nitrogen, but how do you know if you are actually getting it right and making the best use of these applications to maximise your financial return?
As a result of the dreadful winter weather, many headlands, fields and even blocks of land were unfortunately not fit enough for spring combinable crop planting. Growers were therefore faced with two options: leave the area bare and unplanted, or plant an economical green cover crop to harvest sunlight and convert that energy into valuable biomass for the soil.
Many growers opted for the latter and, as you look around the countryside there is now a wealth of summer fallow crops on display, with the likes of sunflowers and oil radish putting on quite the show.
There are many reasons to sow new grass leys, but none more prominent than having some in poor condition following the wettest winter on record and one of the hardest spring droughts.
The recent rainfall will help things but it cannot reverse the damage that's already been done. Unfortunately, many leys have lost key elements, allowing weed grasses such as annual meadow grass, rough stalked meadow grass and couch grass to populate the thinner areas.