Cover crops, Flea Beetle and Conservation.

As we approach the busiest time on the farm harvesting our oil seed rape which is supplied for cooking oil or light industrial lubricant, Dawn Wilson one of our Director’s gives us an overview of how the year has been for this area of the Estate.

It has been a tough year to grow the crop due to the extreme wet conditions during autumn & winter, the wettest February on record with the crop battling to get established as it sits in waterlogged soils, followed by an extremely dry spring, the driest April/May on record!

Our Crops

Currently oil seed rape is grown as a break crop to our main crop winter wheat. The reason winter wheat is our main crop is because our farm has heavy clay soils and consequently the land holds moisture for a long time. Good in a drought but makes life very difficult in a wet season and restricts the variation of crops grown.

Green Cover Crop – Rye Grass, Vetch and Phacelia

Due to the wet conditions earlier in the year we have only managed to plant a third of our planned wheat for the year which is usually supplied as feed for livestock and sometimes milling. We entered the spring with a lot of bare cultivated land, so decided to drill a green cover crop of rye grass, vetch & phacelia in late spring to put some goodness back into the soils rather than just leaving it bare, opening up to the risk of soil erosion.

Green Cover Crop – Rye Grass, Vetch and Phacelia

For once this year the weather was kind to us as the spring drought allowed us to get back on the land with a drill and some light rain to germinate the seed rather than it sitting in a very dry seed bed. I can happily say the crop looks super now (as can be seen from the above photograph) we will not earn anything from it in financial terms, but in enhancing the soil condition as a green manure for the next crop of wheat is a bonus. It also looks very pretty with the purple phacelia flowers now in full blossom, with bumble bees and butterflies loving the flowers.

Conservation Margins

Away from crops there is also a lot of preparation carried out around the fields, woodland edges and in field corners. The aim is to create or enhance wildlife habitats, with special wild flower and nectar seed mixes planted to benefit the wild birds and pollinators. We leave grassy field margins to serve as wildlife corridors linking woods and hedges for the mammals and enabling birds to travel down more on this will follow in my next report.

Flea Beetle and Honeybees

If the weather conditions were not enough to battle with, we have also had to manage the Flea beetle. In order to protect the honey bees we are no longer allowed to spray against the Flea beetle because honey bees are crucial to the natural cycle in the countryside, without them, pollination wouldn’t happen, and our crops and vegetables would not grow, so it is right that they are protected. As with many things it will just take time to adjust our ways of farming. If we are to continue growing oil seed rape we need to find natural predators for the Flea beetle, look into alternative ways of cultivating and crop rotations.

Sheep Grazing on the Pickwell Farm

Sheep Grazing

We have introduced a little grass ley into our rotation and in collaboration with our neighbouring sheep farmer, Northfield Farm, we are grazing this and our small amount of existing permanent pasture. The aim is for the sheep manure to help improve the soil condition plus the grazing of unwanted woody weeds that if left in the permanent pastureland would engulf it into an unmanageable state.

This years results

Sadly, we are not optimistic for a good harvest, we expect our yields to be well down on what we would normally hope for of around 3.5tonne per hectare for oil seed rape and 9.5tonne for wheat. We can only make up some of this deficit if the price per tonne is higher than usual which at this moment in time is looking slightly more positive so we will see, fingers crossed!

The hard work of one arable farming season is about to come to an end with the climax of the harvesting of our crops. In September we will start to prepare the land for the drilling of the next rotation to harvest in the late summer of 2021.