Monday, July 15, 2019

Keeping up appearances

July 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Fen Tiger

Beating blackgrass is more easily said than done – and looks can be deceiving, says Fen Tiger.

It has been a busy few weeks. With the flag leaf appearing and some ears of wheat visible by the end of May the sprayer has been in full swing. My neighbours – who appear to have won their battle with blackgrass – seem pleased with themselves.

My own wheat looked respectable but ever increasing blackgrass patches have reared their ugly heads. Not so bad that the crop has to go for forage but annoying enough to curse the agronomist and every pound spent to combat the problem.

At times like this, I try to think back and remember how out of control the problem was five years ago. Continuous early drilling and less frequent glyphosate at a money-saving reduced rate was probably making my problems worse not better.

How my neighbours have managed to beat blackgrass has left me scratching my head.

No easy solution

We all try to delay drilling, use glyphosate where necessary and give the crop maximum pre-emergence and post-emergence sprays. My own out-dated Avadex spreader has seen better days but at an extra cost my local fertiliser firm can apply it mixed with phosphate and potash.

It’s a good idea and makes the most of all active ingredients available. With no new chemicals appearing on the market, it seems the old ideas have to work.

I guess blackgrass is restricted to our shores. Had it not been, then I am sure that more money and research would have been used to find a solution to what is an ongoing and increasingly challenging problem.

Why we still sometimes use older chemicals that once worked but no longer do is beyond me. We are like good friends reluctant to part company. It is almost as if we hope that some chemicals may suddenly gain a new lease of life and start to work again.

You see, my neighbour who quite openly brags about his free-from-blackgrass fields is very much mistaken. He has transformed his farm to one winter crop and two spring crops. He has effectively become a barley baron with small parcels of land dotted about drilled with maize.

The whole farm seems to be a wave of barley awns. If you actually stop and think about the barley crop, there are fewer chemicals available to control blackgrass so your only weapon is to rely on the barley to smother and cover the blackgrass.

And that is why my neighbours have no blackgrass visible at least. Look closely and he has an abundant supply of blackgrass – but it is just below the barley height and cannot rear its ugly head or be seen.

Golden glow

Come harvest, his fields will have a lovely golden glow but underneath there will be a lovely green carpet. Hopefully, it will be unable to seed. But it will be there nonetheless, despite his stale seedbeds while abandoning the plough.

We as farmers have all employed these same tactics – just breaking the pan and cultivating before leaving everything overwinter ready for the spring barley. I make use of glyphosate  and keep seed rates high – and have so far been blessed with mild and dry autumns and winters.

Being able to drill in late October or early November is a luxury. And surely the weather will have the final word. A wet harvest or autumn is overdue in these parts – and then we will see what progress has been made the following spring regarding blackgrass control.

It gives me no pleasure in saying this because on my wet, heavy land I will be the first to suffer. Maybe then the old plough may even have to come out of the nettles.

studiopress

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