“If it’s working, change it!”
09 Juni, 2017
09 June, 2017
When Richard’s family bought a 150-hectare farm in 2000, the land was infested with resistant blackgrass. In some places the weeds were so bad they couldn’t even see the wheat! They set about tackling the weed problem through a number of measures: introducing spring cropping with linseed, barley, peas and beans; opting for minimum tillage with no rotational plowing and allowing blackgrass to flush in autumn to reduce levels in the seed bank; using chemical crop protection products to minimize blackgrass in the field; and maintaining strict machine hygiene. Some of the spring crops did not have particularly good gross margins, but it was a case of “short-term pain for long-term gain,” as Richard puts it. “After a few years, we were able to increase the area of autumn crops.”
“Short-term pain for long-term gain.”– Richard Hinchliffe
Zero tolerance on weeds
Though this part of Yorkshire was always quite bad for blackgrass, farmers had respectable levels of control up to about two years ago. Then the weed population shifted very suddenly and quickly. As a result, ever-larger areas of good farmland are being lost to weeds. “Our response,” Richard explains, “is a zero-tolerance approach. In one field of spring wheat in 2016 we sprayed out a third of the crop, but even now we’re not sure we got the field clean. Looking back, we know when we didn’t get a field clean enough. Looking forward, we’re rotating from spring wheat into winter beans on that field, and then going for a very late crop of winter wheat for the 2018 harvest.” That’s where Richard sees parallels to playing chess.
Cultural controls have been part and parcel of the Hinchliffes’ weed management system for years. Besides the zero tolerance approach, they rely on high seed rates, late drilling, spring cropping for rotational diversity, mixing herbicide groups, machine hygiene, cleaning out dykes to ensure good drainage, and hand-rouging. “Hand-pulling weeds is backbreaking work,” Richard says, “but it does give you time to think and plan for change!” Following a spring herbicide application, hand-rouging for up to six weeks ensures a crop goes into harvest clean. Cover crops are also being considered as a means of taking the moisture out of the wet soil in the winter months. “As our land is lower than high tide, getting spring crops in can sometimes be tricky,” Richard adds. “But no-till is proving useful here as well.”
For 15 years the Hinchliffes have been working towards the goal of no-till farming and 2017 is their first full cropping year with no-till. There were several reasons for this strategy: a shortage of skilled labor, soil health, and managing blackgrass by avoiding inverting through using a low-disturbance, single-disk direct drill to keep weeds and their seeds near the surface. “Low soil disturbance,” Richard knows from experience, “means low blackgrass germination.”
Diversity is key
After being awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 2016, Richard has traveled to the USA, Australia and Argentina to learn more about what farmers in those countries are doing to control resistant weeds. From what he has learnt on his trips and the experience gained on his family farm, Richard’s top solution for controlling weeds and ensuring a farm stays productive is simple: “If it’s working, you’ve got to change it before it breaks — and weeds break you!” In Richard’s view diversity is the key – in crop rotation, herbicide usage, and cultural controls.