April has been a particularly exciting month for me because I’ve taken on a new role at Velcourt as the company’s environmental lead. The new role will cover areas such as environmental stewardship, sustainability and working towards net zero, as well as focusing on longer term opportunities around landscape scale projects, biodiversity net gain and carbon sequestration.
There are lots of new and exciting things to get stuck into in an area which is evolving rapidly within the industry.
Back on the farm, the spring drilling campaign was completed without too many issues and crops have established well. We’ve got 270ha of spring wheat, 80ha of spring oats and 30ha of spring beans. We have 125ha of spring linseed which was planted just before the rain in the last week of April. Temperatures have slowed early development so following the rain, we really need things to warm up a little.
The spring has allowed us to continue to develop different methods of establishment. Most of our spring crops follow an over winter cover crop which are grazed with sheep.
On the lighter soils we’ve been able to direct drill with our tined drill, where on the heavier soils we have tried a couple of different disc based cultivators and compared them against our Vaderstad Topdown which we use at a reduced depth of about 10cm.
Patience is key with direct drilling on heavier soils in the spring, moisture retention is less of an issue so the conditions on the day are critical to uniform establishment.
Our fields probably also aren’t quite level enough after years of cultivation so this is something we also need to address before adopting a wider direct drilling approach.
Our aim is to take big horsepower out of our system and we’re planning for changes in 2022 so 2021 is a year of trialing so we can work out what we’re going to do going forwards. It all looks very good at the moment but we’ll see what happens when it comes to putting a combine in the field and how that carries through!
We’ll also be trying a low disturbance subsoiler in the summer so we can alleviate some areas of compaction following the last two autumns.
Autumn crops are slightly more variable; cereals generally look well but winter linseed which was looking good through the winter, took a bit of a hiding thanks to the cold winds in February.
So we've had to write off 60ha (out of 200ha in total) and replace with a spring crop. The cold conditions through March and early April has kept disease levels low, but the change in the recent weather will inevitably increase pressure as we head into the later input timings.
We’ve now turned our attention to establishing areas for our stewardship scheme which went live on 1 January. We've got around 160ha of various stewardship mixes to go in between now and mid-June and although some are on a field scale there are plenty of small plots, which means lots of running around, so I’m not my team’s favorite person right now! But that's the next big project for us going forward.