Wheat yields reach new highs

As we head into Christmas, it is time to reflect on a busy end of the year. Harvest, which now seems along time ago, went relatively smoothly.  The wheat and spring beans were harvested on the 31st August with better than expected results. Our winter wheat averaged 11.6t/ha the RSPB’s best ever and 36% higher than last year. Yields for the spring beans were a respectable 3.4t/ha whilst the oilseed rape, which had not recovered from the early winter woodpigeon damage, reached only a disappointing 2.0t/ha. We were extremely fortunate that we escaped the worst of the wet weather when the contractor combined the crops, as the crops only required small amounts of drying to meet the minimum storage requirements.
This years cropping (to be harvested in 2009) consists of 82 ha of winter wheat, 32 ha of oilseed rape and 37 ha of spring beans. The wheat was sown remarkably quickly after harvest on the 17th September. Between harvest and sowing, the contractor had completed several cultivations with discs and tines to provide a good quality seed bed for the wheat. As in previous years, the oilseed rape was broadcast into the standing wheat prior to the wheat harvest. Our decision to continue with this method this year followed the conclusion of the oilseed rape trail, which is described below. The germination was especially good because the damp soil conditions resulting in a uniform oilseed rape. Wet weather has delayed the last of the spraying and it now looks as though this will not happen until next year. Hopefully it will stop raining at somepoint so we are able to get the spraying upto date.

Benefits of broadcast oilseed rape:

You may remember that over the last two years we have been establishing our oilseed rape using two methods, broadcasting and the more traditional non-inversion tillage. Our original decision to broadcast was made on a commercial basis four years ago because it provided large savings in establishment costs compared with traditional methods. By broadcasting, we provide more over-winter stubbles, which have the potential to be a good source of grain and weed seeds. However, we did not have any information on which method farmland birds preferred. To resolve this question, we established a trial to compare bird use of oilseed rape grown by the two methods. We have just completed the analysis, which indicate that there is no significant difference between methods, although the birds numbers on the broadcast rape were consistently higher on the broadcast compared with the non-inversion tillage. The possible reasons for this are that the oilseed rape rapidly grows up to prevent access to the seed within the stubble or that birds do not use it once the rape has grown up due to the predation risk. Given the conclusions we have decided to base our choice on method of establishment on agronomic and economic considerations, as for birds, there was no clear and consistent evidence that suggests one technique is more beneficial than the other. Therefore, we decided to continue broadcasting the seed as this method provided superior financial margins allowing us easier control of blackgrass our biggest grass weed problem. The full results of these trials can be seen on the Farm wildlife website http://www.farmwildlife.info/case/default.asp.

Birds

Analysis of the maps was completed and as predicted in the last entry they did show a mixed year. The results show that 2008 Hope Farm Farmland Bird Index to be the second highest only very slightly down from last years record. Woodpigeon, yellow wagtail, linnet and reed bunting all held the highest number of territories since recording began in 2000. Yellowhammer, grey partridge and greenfinch numbers were stable whilst skylark and whitethroats numbers fell.  This is still a very positive story against the backdrop of the national decline of the farmland bird index.
We have now started our winter fieldwork, our first count in November was promising as we recorded over 280 yellowhammer plus 20 snipe and a woodcock. We will provide further updates in the next addition.

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