I thought I would start this blog post by reviewing this past Autumn and the outlook for most farms. Not much has changed since my previous entry, with the rain continuing to hold us off the land and wet patches still laying wet. The frosts gave some an opportunity to get the drill back in the ground and, by most accounts, this was successful. Late-drilled wheats went in relatively well given the general conditions and crops are beginning to emerge despite the cold soil temperatures. However, the rain that follows the frosts has once again scuppered any further drilling plans. Crops are still suffering from wet feet and many have decided to pack up the drill, anti-freeze the sprayer and call it a day until the New Year. I can’t blame them! The forecast still looks catchy at best so why not sit back and enjoy some well-earned R&R? I think everyone involved in agriculture this Autumn deserves some down-time now.
At Indigro, we have been trying to look into what has made this Autumn so difficult for growers. Rainfall is the most obvious factor. I mentioned in a previous post that the UK had seen as much rainfall in October as September 2019 and October 2019 combined. The figures for November paint a very similar picture. November 2023 and November 2019 are very similar when considering rainfall figures, with the UK average sitting at 111mm, compared with 119mm in 2019. Compounding this difficult Autumn has been the incessant slug pressure. Perhaps the wet Summer allowed mature slugs to survive through to Autumn. The rain shortly after drilling prevented many from rolling to consolidate seedbeds, making it easier for slugs to travel within the topsoil profile. Furthermore, slotting from direct-drilling practices provided easy travel routes for slugs from seed to seed. The temperatures in summer were relatively cool with very few periods of intense heat. Mean temperatures during summer months in the south of England were 16.5 and 16.6 in July and August respectively. This allowed survival and proliferation of slug populations through summer months as slug activity is most prevalent between 5-20oC (AHDB). However, the recent frosts should have decreased populations and slug pressure should have abated.
When driving to and from farms, it is difficult to miss the patchiness of a lot of fields. The temptation to re-drill bare areas with spring crops will be playing on the minds of many a farmer. Discussions around re-drilling should focus on the logistics and the margin for crops. It will be difficult to correctly time spring pesticide applications to crops with different growth stages. Whilst no-one wants areas of bare ground in fields, leaving patches with no applications (in some cases) could be an option worth considering rather than stitching in spring crops that need full pesticide/fertiliser applications for a potentially reduced yield. For some, the Sustainable Farm Incentive (SFI) options could be worth considering for these bare areas within fields. However, thought is needed to ensure any chosen options will work with your rotation for the duration of the scheme.
The Christmas and Winter period is always a good time to reflect on the previous year and make plans for the coming season. The Indigro team have a packed schedule after Christmas with Technical Meetings (both in-house and conferences), completion of exams for the BASIS Diploma, production of Fertiliser and Nutrient Management Plans and, of course, a well-deserved break. The winter period is always a good time for us to take on new information, keep our knowledge current and plan for the coming Spring. So, whilst preparation for Spring will be our key focus in the New Year, it is time for both farmers and agronomists to enjoy some relaxation, catch up with family and have a festive drink (or two!). Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Indigro! We hope 2024 brings us some better weather!