Seedbed preparation unlocks full wheat crop potential

A combination of deep and shallow cultivation techniques plus a judicious use of pre-emergence herbicides including Avadex, gives Staffordshire arable farmer David Rowe the best chance of controlling blackgrass.

Historically the pernicious weed has not been a problem on the arable farming enterprise and while it still is not a major concern now – there are odd pockets about that Mr Rowe believes have come in via baling contractors – it is definitely on the radar.

“We are aware of blackgrass presence on the farm and we are tackling it as part of our cultural and chemical control strategy,” says Mr Rowe who farms in partnership with his brother Philip and father as F W Rowe and Sons, Comberford Farm, Tamworth.

Small incremental changes to the farming operation over the last few years, has helped to maximise profitability on the 4,250ac of land that is part owned (320ac) and rented (1000ac), while the remainder is share and contract farmed. The company operates over seven farms within a 20 mile radius and supports over 1150ac of oilseed rape, 1700ac of winter wheat, and nearly 170ac of second early and main crop potatoes, 1050ac of winter barley and 227ac of winter rye.

“Brome around the headlands is more challenging and we have the usual broadleaved weeds such as cleavers and goundsel to deal with too. Culturally our aim is to prepare a level and consistent seedbed, achieved using both deep and shallow cultivations. Getting the seedbed right helps crop establishment and with weed control.

“Our herbicide programme focuses on stacking pre-emergence options and this now also includes Avadex, which is applied through a Vaderstad BioDrill attached to the back of our 8m Rapid RDA drill.”

Soils vary from blowing sand to heavy clay and often everything in between can exist in the same field. This can make choice of cultivation a challenge and Mr Rowe says that he has some fields that are so heavy they should be down to permanent pasture. Having said that winter wheat five year yield average is a respectable 4t/ac.

The cultivator fleet includes a 6m and a 7m TopDown which are used down to a depth of up to 10 inches. The largest TopDown also has a double SteelRunner at the back to help seedbed preparation and to break up consolidation. A 6m Sumo Quattro plus BioDrill is used for establishing oilseed rape. Its subsoiler legs go down to 17 inches while discs help to mix and chop the previous wheat stubbles. Two RexiusTwins and two power harrows complete the line up.

For wheat being drilled into oilseed rape stubbles, Mr Rowe employs a TopDown straight after harvest, ideally when the soils are dry. Leaving land until later in the season before preparing a seedbed is often counterproductive, especially on the heavier land which can be tricky in the wet.

Prior to drilling he uses a 10.3m and a 6.3m RexiusTwin to mix and level the soil and in the most challenging soils he also employs two power harrows immediately in front of the drill. The RDA’s are equipped with System Disc front tools, and on the newest model bought in 2016 a BioDrill for applying Avadex granules has been added.

“It seems that a lot of farmers have chosen to go down the direct drilling route, believing that minimal soil movement will help to keep on top of blackgrass,” says Mr Rowe. “But, we often tend to do the opposite to everyone else, and it’s difficult to move away from what has always worked for us. Some farmers might think we are a bit heavy on our choice of cultivation, but our objective is to achieve a level seedbed and consistent seed depth across the whole field.

“What struck us a few years ago was that lots of farmers were moving to spring cropping because their winter herbicide costs had increased trying to tackle blackgrass predominantly,” he explains. “We don’t have large areas of blackgrass yet so we aren’t in that situation and we have not included spring cropping, although we have grown about 400ac of combinable peas in the past because we were limited to light land. Peas at the time were as profitable as second wheat so it made economic sense too.”

Mr Rowe says that his current farming practices do not follow the minimum tillage strategies adopted by many famers because of the problem with blackgrass.

“We still think we should be going deep. Using deep cultivation helps reduce compaction. We still have machines running about on the land so we have little choice, though it would reduce our machinery costs by adopting a minimum tillage approach.

“We have employed a TopDown since 2004 and it’s the one machine in the portfolio that has stood the test of time,” explains Mr Rowe. “We understand the issues around blackgrass and we want to nip it in the bud before it takes hold on this farm. This is why we have chosen to use Avadex in addition to our existing pre-emergence herbicide choices.”

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