Harvest review 2016

Harvest 2016 review

With radical change (see Time for a change?) comes challenges. This our first full season of No-till farming has been a challenge. The weather through the growing season has not been ideal for much except slugs through last autumn, winter and early spring. We had problems with slugs reducing plant populations in some crops, most notably our later drilled (planted) Spring barley on heavy clay ground and Winter Wheat following Oilseed rape.
That said we have had some successes our best yielding Winter Wheat was also our cheapest to grow, this was in a field which has now been No-till for 3 years. Due to not moving any soil we have not germinated the weed seeds so very little herbicide was needed, the slugs did not cause too much trouble in this field either.
We have been trailing a different header on the combine, called a stripper header. This as the name suggests strips the grains out of the ear, leaving the straw standing,instead of baling and removing the straw and with it many nutrients or chopping it and leaving a mulch which attracts slugs. This Stripper header has been a real success and our Cross Slot drill has worked really well in behind the combine, the real test will be whether the slugs are better or worse this next winter where we have used the stripper header or where we have used our normal header and chopped the straw. The hope and reasonable theory is that by leaving the straw standing the slugs will have less of a wet mulch in which to live and breed, which the chopped straw provides.
Our cover crops (crops grown to protect and feed the soil over winter) have been planted close behind the combine to allow them to capture as much sunlight as possible, we often had the drill in the same field as the combine, trying to achieve a 5 minute fallow!
The Spring Barley yields have been a little disappointing this year, which has pointed to some errors in the early stages of our tradition to no-till; in March we had perfect ground conditions to plant, but held off as the soil was not warm enough (the little that we drilled then yielded best) the weather then turned wet and we ended up “muddling” some barley in later in April in wetter conditions. We also are very keen to plant into live cover crops and terminate them at the same time, this year that had the effect of the decaying plants locking up nutrients that the germinating barley needed.
The weather this harvest has been generally helpful with a good dry August allowing us to get a lot of the harvest done without spending too much on drying the grain, though the last few fields got delayed by some frustrating weather in early September.
This brings us to our next new thing, this year we have modified our grain handling systems, the old grain dryer, elevators and conveyors were approaching 40 years of age and it was all getting a little tired! So the decision was taken last winter to upgrade our set up. Designed and built by Trevor Nash of Nash Grain Systems, with an Alvan Blanch “Continuous double flow” grain dryer lowered into an old grain store (which got a new roof). All went pretty much to plan with the plant commissioned the day we started the Winter Wheat harvest!

Whilst we have been planting the cover crops this summer it has been noticeable that the drill is going into the ground more easily, the soil is more friable and there are many more worm casts! All of which points towards the soil improvements that we are looking for in changing the system.
So what has in some ways been an uninspiring harvest for many this year, with some average to disappointing yields and low commodity prices close to the cost of production, for us it has been a busy, interesting harvest with lots of things going on and lots to learn! We had a great harvest team who worked tirelessly to get things done, Thanks to them all Robin, David, Mark and Lotte!
The drier being lowered into the barn easier this year.