Two months on from the start of our 2019 drilling campaign, and the crops are well and truly out of the ground. Aside from the cold spell in January, the weather has been quite favourable, but the jury is still out as to whether or not it was the right decision to plant so early. It is very difficult to judge how well these crops are looking right now, because they were planted into a very thick cover crop. This cover has now died, but it leaves behind a lot of residue, making it tricky to assess how well the new plants coming through are really doing. Hopefully by the beginning of April all of the fertiliser, combined with warmer and longer days, will make everything look much better – and my mind can be put to rest.
The remaining fields of oats were drilled in the second half of February, and the weather was then so warm that I decided to take a risk and plant some peas as well. This is a highly unusual, and risky, approach, as peas do not like cold weather. Consequently we normally plant them from the middle of March, to reduce the risk of catching frosts. So far, touch wood, I think it was the right call, and they will be breaking through the surface around the time we would normally be planting them.
We are now right in the middle of the season for applying fertiliser, which started with oilseed rape in the middle of February. This had half of its total dose, and the second half will be applied in the middle of March. This year we have enlisted the help of a company to make aerial maps of the oilseed rape crops with a drone, and we can use this information to vary the amount of fertiliser applied to different areas of the field. The idea is that to get the best yield, you need a certain amount of leaf area, so places where the plant is smaller receive less nitrogen than those places with bigger plants. We will see if it works as advertised.
The rest of the farm has had at least a quarter of its fertiliser, and now, a couple of weeks later, we can see the wheat plants turning a darker shade of green as they start to pick it up. It’s from this point onwards that we start to be at risk of drought, and with such a dry winter and low ground water levels, the possibility is more real than ever. ‘They’ said 2018 was like 1975, so 2019 could be like 1976 (the hottest and driest summer in living memory). Let’s all hope that ‘they’ are wrong.