Cropping Plans For 2018 and Onwards

The time of year for planning the cropping for 2018 is upon us and the need to order seeds and get prepared is now a priority if not already done.  It always pays when doing this to look backwards and try to assess how successful previous years have been, while also ensuring that changes that are being planned are also accommodated.

Many farm businesses have a habit of starting expansion plans during a year without considering the longer term implications in terms of forage supply and impact on cropping plans.  Plans implemented today will have ramifications for the next eighteen months.  If livestock numbers are being increased, what you plant in autumn 2017 will have an impact on what forage is available for winter 2018-19.  Often an unrealistic view is taken on this, consequently leaving next winter tight on quality forage supplies.

When assessing the need for reseeding, it pays if you have been grass recording, to examine the actual yields achieved per paddock.  By doing this you can identify the parts of the farm that are not performing.  Maybe the land in question has too much weed grass in the ley or the varieties have run out of steam, e.g. Italian Ryegrass swards over three years of age or early heading PRG leys that have become too open.  Assuming fertility is not an issue, then varietal choice can be a major area to examine in terms of achieving proper yield potential for the desired purpose.  Just because a reseed is carried out, does not guarantee success.  If an existing problem is the main cause for not achieving the potential of a ley then, if it is not corrected, the same outcome is likely to reoccur i.e. if problems are not resolved you get what you already have.

Many farmers are now growing other crops to provide their forage requirements.  Obviously maize and whole crop cereals have proved popular and are well understood.  However, fodder beet and other brassica crops are becoming more popular as late summer and winter feed sources.  These crops should be treated as if they are true arable crops to get the best out of them.  They have a different set of disease and rotational needs that must be addressed to prevent long term problems starting to crop up.  Some farmers have been growing fodder beet to graze in the same fields two years running.  Due to soil damage in the first year, the yield potential in the second year can be compromised by over 20%.  There is also an increased risk of long term soil borne diseases such as club root being encountered.  If this does become a problem, it can have major issues for the future rotations on farm.

Where true arable cropping is also a part of the business, the benefits of good rotation can be significant in terms of yield achieved and having healthy soils with good structure and organic matter contents.  The current increase in Black Grass as a cereal weed is becoming a major problem.  Rotational breaks and interspersing winter and spring cropping can help to improve control of grass weeds where intensive cereal rotations are the norm.  In an ideal situation, a rotation with several first wheats after a variety of separate break crops spaced over say 6-8 years will enhance the farming considerably while reducing long term rotational risks.  Maybe this can create an opportunity with a neighbouring livestock farmer to allow for grass breaks to be introduced along with organic manures.

Where a lot of wheat is grown, a proper break crop can give a fertility benefit and also break disease cycles.  Where grass leys are part of the rotation, a two to three year break is worth at least 1.25 t grain yield / ha.  This can also be achieved by using legumes such as beans or peas for a year.  Maize and fodder beet as a break crop allow the fertility to be improved via animal manures being applied and thus the organic matter content of the soils can be enhanced.  In contrast Oilseed Rape is a poorer break crop.  It grants only a small benefit to the soil fertility but does provide a disease bridge occurring.  However, it does not pass on a great advantage in yields.  Oats achieve a similar benefit and despite being a cereal, do not provide a disease bridge for wheat in particular.

Summary :
• Ensure you know what livestock feed requirements for next year will really be …
• Assess which grass leys are not pulling their weight and need replacing …
• Use a good rotation for arable and forage crops to enhance yield, soil fertility, weed and disease control …
• Think how cropping impacts on workloads and ability to store crops on farm …
• Try calculating a cropping plan for the next five or more years so as to maximise the area for the best paying crops (Gross margins ) …
• Be aware of the Basic Payment Scheme requirements that may be triggered in terms of three crop rule and environmental focus areas.  These need to be planned carefully …
• Plan seed and fertiliser inputs and forward buy …

Contact Ian at ianbrowne@fcgagric.comor your local FCG office to help you plan your cropping ahead into 2018.

Posted in Arable & Crops, Stafford.