Where are the weeks going? Already as I write Snowdrops are well on flower and crocuses are showing through. The days, especially evenings, are noticeably longer. The light is different and the birds know something is changing.
On a lovely crisp sunny morning earlier this week a pair of buzzards were wheeling and mewling above our river woodland. Nature is stirring!
Oakley: a month in the life of a wheat plant
Oakley is starting to ‘rev’ up now that the air and soil temperatures are warming.
Up until this point in Oakley’s life, there has been little requirement for nitrogen in the soil for growth. Residual inorganic and organic nitrogen is sufficient and has kept the plants green and healthy. Sometimes after a very wet cold spell they can look pale and start to brown.
A top up spray has just been applied to tidy up the difficult grass weeds that I have referred to before. This completes the planned autumn programme, pre and post emergence, that was interrupted by the weather.
Where Oakley is the first wheat, after the previous Rape crop, the plants are tillering now in early February. This is the developmental process where more than one shoot per plant is established that potentially gives an ear for harvest. At drilling time in the autumn the aim is to establish the optimum number of plats per square metre. In the spring the aim is to establish the optimum number of tillers per square meter, which is easier if the plants are there in the first place.
This will give the best chance to optimize yield and so nitrogen is applied to give tillers the best chance of survival. As these Oakley plants are more advanced than their second wheat later drilled cousins, they need less nitrogen at this stage.
Second wheats will be tillering at the end of February and will have their first course of nitrogen applied then.
In order to prevent excess nitrogen being applied and subsequently leaching into water courses after heavy rain, accurate assessments of the crop’s requirements are made so that only correct amounts are spread on any particular field. Official checks are made to ensure this happens.
Elsewhere on the Farm
The last of the hedge cutting has been done to comply with the cutting window that closes at the end of February.
I have been pruning the 15 year old Chestnuts down our farm drive to try and encourage a good shape for later years.
It’s time to prepare financial budgets and consider any adjustments to longer term plans in the light of continuing high grain prices worldwide. It looks as these will stay high for another 12 months at least although it is impossible to predict with complete confidence. China is experiencing a big drought apparently and world stocks are low (see below).
Higher Level Scheme
You may recall that we are 3 years into a 5 year environmental scheme called the Entry Level Scheme. In this we are paid back some of the European support money that is deducted at source from our SPS payment to fund environmental work on farms. In the ELS, we commit for example, to cutting only half of our hedges each year, to putting in 6 metre grass and wild flower margins against ditches to encourage wildlife and prevent any accidental chemical contamination and leaving skylark plots uncropped within a field.
We are now applying to upgrade this to the Higher Level Scheme. We do not know yet what effect DEFRA funding cuts will have on the success of our application. If successful, we will be leaving some land as stubble for 12 months on a rotational basis, grassing areas around the farm buildings that have archaeological remains below the surface, and sowing some smaller areas with plants that are particularly attractive to birds, bees and insects.
Interesting Statistic of the Month
Lancashire dairy farmers are losing up to a tonne of feed as it’s put in front of their cows to huge flocks of scavenging starlings. The UK is the only EU country that will not allow starlings to be controlled
World stocks of wheat and maize are falling as ‘weather events’ in many countries have lowered last year’s harvest and threaten this year’s one too. As prices for grain rise this seriously disadvantages livestock producers that incorporate grain in their feed rations.
Warm off the Press
Footpath to Meppershall could and should be implemented this year. The problem will not go away, the land is available, the funds required are not excessive. Let’s do it!