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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.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Tricky Spring Clean!

As we moved into spring we were busy tidying the yard up for our LEAF Launch; sweeping the concrete, cutting the grass, filling pot holes, clearing scrap metal that had built up through the winter and generally trying to make the yard spotless! I do like a tidy yard, tidy yard and desk means a tidy mind and things don’t get forgotten and overlooked. We try and keep on top of the clutter, as we get busy and then on into harvest things become manic but hopefully we remember to put back tools where they live so in the times of emergencies you can lay your hands on everything in a hurry.
We have kept on top of the yard but my attention has been turned to keeping our crops clean! The weather has dramatically changed from one that was relatively low in disease pressure: dry and cool, to disease pressure that is now off the scale.
Disease on the green leaf
All crops suffer throughout the year from attacks from pests, weeds and diseases and farmers combat them throughout the year with the use of cultural controls as well as the agrichemical options. The use of pesticides is always the last resort and they need favourable conditions to work. For instance, herbicides usually need moisture in the soil to activate and this year the seed beds were so dry the activation was very short so we have been swamped with black grass across the country, as the flushes of weeds like this invasive grass kept on germinating through the mild winter. The same happened with aphids in the winter. Being so mild, the aphids transmitted a plat virus that has caused stunning of plants and this has not been seen for years on this scale. Then we come to the disease pressure! I have never - and even the older generations can not remember a year like it. Septoria and Rust have been a huge problem; these two diseases are fungi that attack the plant throughout the growth in the spring. If the crop is left untreated, the fungus spreads up the plant and from plant to plant by air movement as well as rain splashes carrying spores. What we have had this year: high winds and lots of heavy rain droplets, topped with dramatic temperature changes from cool nights to blistering hot sunshine; has led to a running battle to keep the plants clean of disease.
I use the term clean because, if you don’t keep the disease out, the crops turn yellow and brown very quickly and the plant looks dirty with fungus spores. The aim for us is to maintain green leaf for as long as possible. Green leaf is the Holy Grail, especially this year, for, not only is it a great year for fungus growth it is also a great year for crop growth and the yield potential is out there. 
Fungicide Treated
The winter wheat crop has just come to a critical growth period called grain fill. The ear is out and the individual grains have started to form and swell as the water is moved up through the roots from the soil, into the cells of the plant to form each grain. The sun beams down on the crop and photosynthesis gives the plant the energy it needs to maximise all the grain - that hopefully in the end we catch as we combine the crop after it has died naturally and dried out.  The ear and the last leaf to be exposed (known as the flag leaf)contribute to 65% of the yield that we harvest later on, this is why it is paramount to keep the fungicide cover up to prevent the diseases taking a hold of the plant and killing off the green cells. In a normal year, we cover the new leaves 4 times with chemicals that cure and prevent fungus growth. However, this year we have already done 5 and may have to do another! This becomes expensive for us and hopefully we get rewarded with the yields that the crops look to have the potential of giving, come harvest. If we did not spray for the disease so much our crops would be yellow and dead in the field. This is a picture of one of the field edges where the spray never quite reached and you can see there is not much green leaf left compared to the middle of the field.
No Fungicide Treatment

We just hope that this wet and humid weather subsides and the sun arrives for summer and we can fill the barns with nice large swollen grains and our high fungicide bills can be paid off! Time will tell……BWB  

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