Well, it’s mid-winter and the crop is pretty much motionless at the moment.
There aren’t really any pests or diseases that it’s at risk from at this time of year, and the frosty weather doesn’t harm it at all. It actually helps kill off aphids that can transmit a damaging virus into the crop, so the cold weather is welcome.
Autumn planted cereals actually require a prolonged cold snap to ‘vernalise’, and without it they won’t produce a satisfactory ear of grain in the following summer. Spring planted crops obviously don’t need this.
You can see below that most plants have produced three ‘tillers’, and these will increase in the spring. Each tiller will give off its own ears, and thinner crops tend to self-compensate and produce more (into the available space) and thicker crops don’t. The weaker of the tillers are sometimes sacrificed by the plant in times of high stress later in the season, with drought being a common reason for this.
At this time of year we need to make sure that the potash and phosphate levels are good to ensure good root growth in the Spring, and healthy cell walls in the plant. Good levels of P & K also provide an element of drought resistance too; something that’s become important in recent years.
P&K comes either in mined granular form in a tonne bag (applied at around 250-500 kgs/ha) or in organic form such as heat-treated chicken muck etc. Now the crop is established we are slightly more limited as to what we can apply as the machines need to be able to throw it accurately across the width of the tramlines. Summer-applied PK in organic form can be in many different forms, and as basic as cattle muck/slurry etc.
We walk the crops this time of year to asses the volumes and types of weeds they contain to plan a selective herbicide programme for the Spring, and we map the weeds in software on tablets as we walk. This allows it to only treat the bad areas, which saves money and avoids blanket applications of herbicides.
I’m starting to plan getting the infrastructure ready for Spring now. Making sure all the fertiliser grades I need are in stock, and in the most efficient barns for application, and getting machines checked over and serviced to ensure they don’t let me down when I need them to be ready for action.
Five loads of last summer’s oats were loaded out this morning (150 tonnes) and these went for breakfast cereal. I sold them at £174 per tonne two months ago. They’re now worth over £200 had I sold them today! That’s the way the market goes. That’s £3,900 lost purely on a market shift. My break even price was £103.
Anyway, I’ll update more as and when the crop wakes up in mid Feb. Until then, it’ll be quiet again, but there will be weekly activity by mid March, right through to harvest.