What an extraordinary autumn: warm, largely dry, with enough rain to germinate crops and allow application of residual herbicides with the hope they might work. What could go wrong?
Well as a starter we have been concerned about the level of seed emergence and establishment of a Clearfield variety of oilseed rape. Our own farm saved conventional seed has emerged well as has the new conventional varieties and one different Clearfield variety so we do speak from comparative knowledge looking across some 1,400 acres of oilseed rape.
For the variety in question establishment at best is 50% of the seed sown. What makes the situation worse is that when one takes out the oilseed rape volunteers which the application of Clearanda will do, in many cases what is left is a non viable crop. We could of course not apply the herbicide and suffer the weeds but the whole reason for growing Clearfield varieties is to remove the broad leaved weeds and it does reset the clock by removing volunteers of dubious erucic acid levels which seems to be an ongoing if rather random problem with seed delivered to Erith oil mill.
We are currently discussing the matter with the supplier and seed samples are being vigour tested but at best guess 300 acres will be sprayed off with glyphosate and redrilled with winter wheat. That really is disappointing as we have overcome the ravages of flea beetle attacks and slugs and even the weather has helped late drilled oilseed rape crops grow away to the point where they have a realistic chance of surviving the winter to make a crop.
One could add to that the cost of the Clearfield seed and application of graminicide which puts us well on the way to £50 per acre to be written off before we consider a second set of cultivations and seed. Still it is no good persevering with a poor crop this side of winter.
On a more positive note we did get two very substantial flushes of grass weeds which have been sprayed off prior to drilling wheat, and herbicides have been applied in good conditions to excellent seed beds. We have no idea what level of seed bank remains but if we do not get good control in these circumstances then we never will. We are still holding back on the very worse grass weed fields and the conditions are allowing us to do that with some confidence at the moment.
The catch crops we drilled in late July as part of our ecological focus area (as you can see in the picture) are impressive if you are into that sort of thing. The oats in the seed mix have thrown a panicle in ten weeks and the oil radish have a substantial root. We have the bonus of wild charlock and runch producing yellow and white flowers in abundance. It looks like a field of weeds to me and I guess that is exactly what it needs to be to bring ecological benefits to the table.
Immediately after 15 October we shall spray it off and a contractor will come and drill wheat as I cannot see any of our current drills coping with the volume of green matter. I look forward to the outcome of the drilling and what the crop becomes over the next ten months or so. The August drilled cover crops are somewhat slower and sparser due to the dry September but what was sown has emerged along with plenty of weeds – not all of them that rare. The aim is to follow up with a spring barley crop so there is plenty of time for the cover crops to establish although slightly less of a stand than the catch crops would be a good thing next spring. Unfortunately I fear I may be looking at the future.
Since last month I have listened to the foreign secretary and a couple more MPs speak about Brexit. All are clear we need a deal for economic reasons and that agriculture is one of the sectors of the economy that is vulnerable if we leave without a deal. The reality is that a no deal Brexit will be catastrophic for agriculture – not just because of the trade barriers that will be erected by Europe, although they will quickly be serious for the sheep sector. But more because of what is likely to happen to food supplies coming from Europe.
With the supermarkets just in time supply chains, shortages will occur and then government will have to intervene and food from Europe is likely to be waved in tariff free to avoid the friction and costs. That will knock on to all World Trade Organisation countries and we will be in an import tariff free market while faced with export tariffs into Europe and beyond. In fairness to the foreign secretary, he did acknowledge that the country would face a serious economic shock in the short term (recession?) if there is no deal. While he was optimistic that we would have a deal with Europe before the end of March 2019 there was still the uncertainty of the House of Commons to overcome. Clearly this is not an understatement in the circumstances.
In Kent you will all be pleased to know that planning for a no deal scenario is now getting serious. There was an abortive attempt to plan for a lorry park just outside Folkestone but that has fallen by the wayside. We are transforming the M20 motorway into a smart motorway with strengthened hard shoulders to carry the weight of lorries parked or otherwise but unfortunately that will not be completed in time for March 2019. So the plan is to close the M26 in its entirety to park lorries. That always was the backup for Operation Stack if it got out of hand but in the event was never used. Getting in and out of Kent with the Dartford crossing and the M25 has not been easy for years but in a no deal scenario we can look forward to it being impossible.