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Trash Talk! – By Roger Bryan Senior Agronomist Kent

This Autumn chopped straw has been causing considerable problems with cultivations and drilling.



So why this year?

The problem started with the good yields of cereals which unfortunately also produced good yields of straw. A rule of thumb is straw yield is approximately 50% of grain yield. So 6t/ha of straw from 12t/ha grain.

Combine choppers and spreaders struggled with the extra quantity and quality of chop was hampered by straw that was not fit to harvest even though grain was. Sharp blades are needed for season long work. Bigger headers are pulling in evermore material. Combining big areas means blades will need changing more often.

Leaving stubble length longer is one way to deal with this problem going forward. Provided you have the cultivation and/or drill kit to cope with a longer stubble length?

Dry & hard soils following harvest made it difficult to cultivate, wearing lots of metal and burning lots of diesel. The answer was to sit tight and do nothing. Not an easy pastime on arable farms. But those who waited have been rewarded with easier working soils and some good seedbeds.

When it comes to drilling oilseed rape, trashy seedbeds are a good distraction for adult flea beetles but they make a wonderful home for slugs and snails. Slug damage has been a problem and multiple passes with pellets have been needed to keep crops viable.

Also, less cultivation and direct drilling is a great way to conserve moisture, but cultivation kills slugs/snails and desiccates their eggs. So less is more(risk) when it comes to slugs. Going forward, as long as conditions are dry, double rolling is essential after drilling rape where the straw content is high.

Drilling winter cereals into seedbeds after wheat & oat crops has also presented a challenge. Direct drilling has been a struggle into unmoved chopped & spread straw other than with a tine drill such as a Horsch Sprinter which has extra clearance around coulters. Other tine drills and strip tillage drills have become straw rakes in unmoved ground. Disc drills have worked up to a point but there has been a lot of hair pinning of straw and seed depth has been variable, some too shallow. Some measure of discing in front of the drill has been needed for most disc drills to work sensibly. Straw incorporation in front of tine drills has often led to the straw being pulled back up again at drilling.

Again, Rolling or even double rolling has been essential with all that material on the surface. As for oilseed rape, the slug/snail risk is high and pelleting after drilling has been needed on many farms.

In some of the worst cases the plough has come out so that the drill can cope. But don’t throw all that straw into the bottom of the furrow only to cause a problem later when the developing roots hits it. Skims off and fold it over through the profile.

So a few lessons learned. The learning never stops in this industry.