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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Farmer vs Black-grass!!!

An insight into one of our biggest battles on the farm: Farmer vs Black-grass!!!
Last week Nick our sprayer operator and myself attended a technical conference about pesticide usage and future developments in the agrichemical world. It was hosted by our agrichemical suppliers Hutchinsons and they had some of the region leading agronomists talking about different techniques farmers can use to combat problematic weeds such as Black-grass and common diseases such as Septoria tritici.
The first section of the conference was about Black-grass control. Black-grass on our farm is the most detrimental weed to our crops yield. If you do not keep on top of it you will quickly become over run with it, for example; one black grass seed head can produce one to two hundred viable seeds and large single plants can produce ten to fifteen seed heads so doing the math that one plant could produce 3000 seeds that can stay dormant in the soil for over a year!
The real dilemma for farmers is that this weed is very good at recovering if you do not kill it out right. This means that it can become resistant to common herbicide chemicals that we use on a year to year basis by mutating its genes and then this is passed onto its seed and the problem becomes serious. Currently farmers only have two main ways of attacking the problem these are known as cultural control and chemical control.
On our farm we see chemical control as a last resort and any use of any pesticide is only used when it is really needed, so that we can be as environmentally friendly and economical as possible as these pesticides are not cheap. Any application we do to our crops are done in the best condition and at optimum time to allow excellent control, so we are happy that our expensive chemicals have the best chance of doing the best job so emergency measures are not needed.
We have developed as plan of attack against Black-grass using cultural controls as building blocks and chemical control as the clean up products that allows us to farm effectively. The cultural controls that we employ on the farm are things such as the plough, crop rotation, stale seed beds, cultivation timings and seed rates.
The plough is a traditional piece of farming equipment that has been used for generations to combat black-grass and many other weeds. Through ploughing a control of up to 70% can be gained by burying black-grass seed deep into the soil so they rot and die but some can survive. The surviving one can be removed by stale seed beds, this is when a farmer cultivates stubble soon after the last year’s crop has been removed. This triggers a flush of weed seeds and volunteer seeds from the previous crop to germinate creating green stubble. This flush is then either cultivated out again to allow another flush in bad fields or a broad spectrum herbicide such as Glyphosate (Round up)is used to give a complete kill before the drilling of the next crop. This is the only chemical control that does not have resistance problem in any weed or plant group. Crop rotation from year to year is vitally important to allow different drilling dates which allows more weeds to germinate before crop drilling, also different chemical groups work in different crops so if a black-grass plant is resistance to one chemical group another group can be used to kill it in another crop. If the worst came to the worse and black-grass become too much of a problem (black-grass can reduce wheat yields by 75%) fields would have to be left fallow for a year and stale seed bed techniques used throughout the year to reduce the black-grass seed bank. This would not be very good for our farming output as we have to look at producing the largest amount of food from an ever decreasing farmland area as world population ever increasing.
Black-grass like most grasses has the ability to germinate right though the year but mainly spring and autumn when the soil is warm and moist this is why we work so hard to reduce the weed seed bank using cultural controls and backing it up with correctly timed chemical control.   BWB

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