Certainly both impact on farming and that is the place to start. We have finally had some significant rain in north Kent and more forecast to come. If you are so minded it is now possible to plough land and do a good job of burying trash and weeds. The ground ploughs dry so you can drill behind the ploughs but it is still dry enough on top to simply spray off and drill or re drill if that appeals. For mid November that is exceptional.
Looking around the county there is no doubt that everything destined for autumn drilling has been drilled. It all looks late irrespective of drilling date, it has emerged on the rainfall events which occurred in October but it has also been mild. In practice that has suited the late emerging oilseed rape on the lighter land and it has all been growing away well with a good stand of plants that are certainly not winter proud.
I am still optimistic that it all has a fair chance of making a crop depending on when the pigeons finish the local supplies of acorns, beech mast and ivy berries before turning their attention to the oilseed rape. Centurion Max has done a good job on volunteers and grassweeds. Broadleaved control is reasonable in view of the dry soil conditions prevailing at application timing. Where we drilled Clearfield varieties, I am pleased that they have established well and we have now applied the Cleravo which is dealing with the charlock and other problem broad leaved weeds. Where we have found disease we are now applying fungicides.
However I am acutely aware that on the marsh soils in Kent and all the heavy land up the east coast as well as the flea beetle hotspots there is no surviving oilseed rape. The extent of the losses will only become clear over the next few months but clearly production of oilseed rape is likely to fall below the level of self sufficiency for the first time in many years. There is concern if that is a long term situation that the UK may no longer be able to support three crushing mills and Erith may well be at risk which is a serious issue for Kent and the South East.
We have all spent the last three years telling government that the suspension of neonicotinoids had the potential to undermine production of oilseed rape in the UK and coupled with this dry autumn that is exactly what is occurring. Will that make any difference to our decision makers in the UK or Europe? Probably not but we can only keep on making the point. Will Brexit help? Who knows.
We are now being reminded the re authorisation of glyphosate is only to the end of 2018 and that if it fails to be re authorised at that point we will likely lose it in the UK as well as Europe as we will not have reached Brexit by then. If it is banned we are unlikely to see it reinstated post Brexit as our non governmental organisations will be scaremongering and our politicians hiding behind the phytosanitary regulations we will need to comply with to access the European single market. Or on the other hand Johnson, Davies and Fox may just have upset enough European countries and leaders that we are out of the single market in a world trade organisation situation where we might get access to glyphosate and a few other plant protection products. A very mixed bag to look forward to.
Still, if Boris Johnson looks like a loose cannon on the European and world stage, as ever the Americans can better us, with the election of Donald Trump. A one man dollar depreciating machine and he is not even in office yet. If currency is all that differentiates the UK grain markets from world levels then the prospect of president Trump should sound alarm bells in UK farmers’ minds and make them concentrate on current forward pricing levels.
In addition at some point the rather pointless 0.25% reduction in UK base rates will be reversed when inflation is imported into the UK indexes. After that there is going to be only one way for the pound, probably at just the point that Donald is getting stuck into building walls and anything else he can think of. After all, construction is something he does know about. A weak pound is just as transitory as a strong pound: there are always direct and indirect influences as well as some completely unexpected political ones.
Enough of that: back on the ground we have plenty of wheat growing away. Similar to oilseed rape, the crops look late regardless of drilling date. As expected, the first wheats after modest oilseed rape crops with open canopies are where we are seeing some blackgrass emerging. Where it is bad on some small areas it has managed to grow through a robust residual and Avadex granules. Those areas have been sprayed off with glyphosate and re drilled taking advantage of the weather.
Second wheats drilled later show very little grass but are really only just emerging and are not going to tiller much until spring. Where we are struggling with serious black grass the plan is to plough and grow spring barley. With the benefit of experience I am clear that it needs a competitive spring crop to break the cycle and barley is the only choice.
As an example this spring where we had a blocked drill coulter there was a row of blackgrass across the fields in the drill miss. In our wet spring that led to ergot contamination of the black grass and barley, which is just another downside of blackgrass. However where we had a full drill, black-grass could not compete. When we have tried spring wheat it just is not competitive enough to smother out the black grass so nothing gained.
A more disappointing outcome is where we fallowed a block of heavy land with a serious black-grass burden for 12 months. The grass was sprayed off four times, we drilled wheat into a fine seed bed with moisture, applied residuals and Avadex in perfect conditions and we still have a sprinkle of black grass emerging in the crop. There is always something to learn in farming and it may just be that we are not going to win with black-grass on heavy land.