Blackgrass, Brexit and the quest for yield

Biog: Chris Hewis manages a 280 ha mixed farm in Lincolnshire, growing winter wheat, winter and spring barley and winter oilseed rape. 40 ha of grass supports a suckler beef herd of approximately 65 continental cross cattle, producing stores. He was not born into farming, but was always very interested. “I remember visiting Riseholme College as a 9 year old primary school pupil and thinking how I would love to study there. Nine years later I did exactly that.” He has been in his current role since leaving college 28 years ago. He has been married to Katy for 23 years and has a daughter and two sons. He follows Grimsby Town Football Club, has an HGV license, is BASIS and FACTS qualified. He is involved with the local Rural Training Group and with #clubhectare as one of the original co-founders.

Title:      Blackgrass, Brexit and the quest for yield
The highs and lows of the 2016 harvest are still fresh in my mind as we start to feel the bite of winter. On the plus side, the wheat yield from the Reflection we grew was very good, barley samples were of a decent quality and the harvest was good, with all crops having stood well and weed-free. The big lowlight was oilseed rape yields that were 10% down on the five-year average for the farm.

Looking forward to next year’s crop, it’s been a strange autumn. We had a long, dry spell post-harvest that led to hard, dry, cloddy seedbeds in which very little blackgrass germinated. We then had a wet fortnight that encouraged a good flush of weeds as well as creating some ideal seedbeds for drilling. We deliberately delayed drilling by a month to help with managing blackgrass populations.

We’ve planted hybrid oilseed rape, sown conventionally following two passes with shallow discs. Winter Barley (Cassia) was sown following the plough, and our wheat was sown after min till cultivation.

Our approach to ploughing has now been reduced from 'Everything, always’ to twice in a five-year rotation, so now just for winter and spring barley.

Our wheat variety choices are all yield-driven because we are so close to the docks it doesn't make any sense trying to achieve small premiums on crops which then have to be transported inland at a increased haulage rate.

So our selection includes Dickens, because it has performed very well here for the last two years and is easy to manage. It stays clean, even when the weather makes it difficult to get fungicides on at the correct time, and it produces a good heavy sample of grain. We have continued with Reflection because it yielded so well and is quite early to harvest. Plus we have planted a small area of Marston because I like to try new varieties when I see one that performs well in trials.

Our approach with machinery and technology is focused on output and anything that reduces the quantity of inputs used without compromising output – essentially tools that allow us to specifically targeting those inputs to where they are needed.

Looking ahead to the challenges that we are most concerned about, they have to be blackgrass and the loss of active ingredients. BREXIT could be either a threat or an opportunity......who knows what the outcome will be, but I think it will be an opportunity as we are able to promote British produce around the world, produced to the highest of standards. 

CropTec 2016

Worried about the uncertainty that UK agriculture faces post Brexit? A visit to CropTec has never been more relevant. CropTec will provide professional advice from our technical seminars and exhibitors – the essential catalyst for profitable arable farming whatever barriers to production politics, the weather or fickle commodity prices put in its path. 

The event is free to attend for those visitors that pre-book their tickets. ALL visitors will be charged £15 on the day.

Nichola Bell

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