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EAF Country Report from Scotland - October 2004

Agrilogisk 09/04

 

As usual a report from Scotland has to start with the weather! An almost perfect growing season very nearly turned into a total disaster as 160mm rain fell on rapidly ripening crops between 5th and 20th August. We had no oilseed rape, but farmers who missed any chance at all to lift swathed crops are facing the prospect of taking huge discounts on sprouted seed. One hears reports of £45 per tonne being offered for these samples. Direct cut crops were not so badly affected, but sprouting was still widespread. As the days progressed without any improvement in conditions we made a decision to take our  “added value” crops of  seed wheat & malting spring barley & milling oats  at every possible opportunity. This meant cutting at moistures of around 23-24% at any time the straw was dry enough to combine. To avoid damaging the germination capacity of these crops we were forced to cut “little & often” keeping no more than 2 days in front of the dryers. One of the few benefits of our drying system, which comprises 4 dryers at three locations, was that we were able to tell all our customers we were giving “their crop” priority as we processed barley through one plant & different seed wheat varieties through the others. Fortunately on 20th August the weather pattern changed and we have been able to complete our wheat harvest in ideal conditions at moistures of 16-19%.

The result of the aforementioned ideal growing season is outlined in the “emotionally if not financially” rewarding table below of our harvest results.

 

Crop Estimated Yield (t/ha) Forecast return/tonne
Winter Wheat 10.7 £80
Malting Barley 6.4 £87
Milling Oats 8.9 £84
Peas 6.2 £90
Potatoes 58 £135

Regular readers will be aware of our wheat marketing strategy deliberated over at great length last winter following our disastrous results due to early selling of the 2003 harvest. Our policy of  selling as early as possible at levels which showed a margin backed up by the purchase of  a call option has certainly paid handsomely this year. Our largest concern at the moment is how to market our “extra” wheat due to our higher than budgeted yields in the present depressed market of around £60/t. However as this wheat is a bonus I suppose we could have worse problems!

Our combine yield monitor has again confirmed my gut reaction that the average yield difference between first & second wheats is 1-1.5t/ha. We are therefore proceeding, all be it not wholeheartedly, with our plan to not grow harvestable crops on all our area to maximise profit making first wheat area. The theory being that you can make more money harvesting  a first wheat evey other year & foregoing the crop income in the other than growing permanent wheats. We have experimented with direct drilling oilseed rape into wheat stubbles, but it is too early to give a verdict on the results. Traditionally, establishing rape after wheat in Scotland has been considered too risky, either because of the time factor or because the soil is too dry due to wheat using all the soil moisture right into August. In theory direct drilling should improve timeliness & minimise moisture loss! We will also grow an increased area of  beans and peas not all of which will be harvested in an effort to maximise our area of first wheats.  Physiologically I have found it impossible to follow this through completely especially on areas which have grown wheat since I came home in 1984 so we have ended up with the cropping plan outlined below:

 

Crop Area (ha)
Peas 7
Potatoes 13
Setaside 10
Swedes 16
Beans (harvested & unharvested) 69
Oilseed Rape 65
Wheat 218
Environmental 26

It is always difficult to change a winning formula, but we have made several varietal changes to our wheats for the coming year. We have dropped the old favourite, Riband which is less suited to our first wheat only policy & has become very expensive to keep clear of disease. Main variety will be Robigus, a specialist first wheat aimed at the distilling and biscuit flour market which I budget it should cost £30/ha less in fungicide. Another newcomer is a class2 milling wheat Cordiale which is extremely early and is targeted to be followed by oilseed rape.

Our  autumn herbicide strategy will this year be based on Flufenacet at rates varying between 120 & 180g/ha. Different mixing partners including Pendimethalin & Trifluralin will be added depending on the expected weed spectrum. Although this move away fro IPU has a negative cost implication, trials show the Flufenacet to give more reliable results against grass weeds across a range of weather & soil conditions. In our continuous wheats this will be backed up with 15g/ha Monitor in November in an effort to stem the tide of Sterile Brome.