Welcome to Kings' December e-newsletter. This edition advises how to protect crops from high winds, considers green cover destruction methods in advance of spring drilling, emphasises the importance of soil health and encourages growers to join Operation Pollinator.
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Kings southern technical advisor
Protecting crops from wind
For most of the country, there has been little sign of winter and hardly a frost to speak of. We have had plenty of dull, damp days though and growers in the north have had horrendous flood conditions to deal with. We’ve also had some gale force winds which have highlighted issues with the late season holding ability of game cover crops in places.
It’s important to consider factors like this when assessing game performance, which is often best undertaken in December and January. Working in a perennial crop, such as a belt of reed canary grass or chicory, can help to protect the main feed or game cover crop from strong winds. This is particularly effective with maize and keeps the crop warm at game bird height by deflecting winds up and over the crop, which also helps to maintain late season standing power. Perennials can also provide a screen as positions are taken before a drive begins, which can make a big difference when late season birds are restless.
Underplanting crops such as maize with a mixture of red, white and Japanese reed millet can have a similar effect in warming the crop and will offer an extra feed dimension as well as providing support to any crops that may have brackled later in the season. Maize does not like too much competition, however, some herbicides will remove millet and birds will not run on to flushing points if the crop is too thick, so it's important to take expert advice on seed rates, agronomy and tactical location to get the most out of this approach.
Preparing for spring crops after green cover
For following spring crops to establish well, green cover crop destruction must be managed effectively. Last year, some growers were caught out when they tried to drill directly into the residue of large, leafy crops that had been only been destroyed that same week.
Crops can be destroyed by a variety of methods, but your approach should be decided according to the cover crop species and the crop that will follow. This may include grazing off, flailing or applying glyphosate for example, followed by ploughing, cultivating or direct drilling. The availability of equipment will also impact on the decision.
These examples demonstrate the different approach taken by two growers earlier this year:
• In Northamptonshire, a bespoke oil radish based cover crop was sprayed off with full rate glyphosate + wetter on 15th January; spring beans were then drilled with a 12m Horsch tine drill on 16th March. The pre em was also mixed with glyphosate.
• In Wiltshire, a bespoke cover crop was sprayed with glyphosate two days before drilling spring barley with a New Zealand cross slot drill.
Be sure to work with your seed supplier and agronomist to make sure your spring crop gets off to a good start while also getting maximum benefits from the cover crop.
Focus on soil health to improve crop performance
Interest in soil health has increased on a huge scale in 2015, named International Year of Soils by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Growers recognise that understanding soil and ensuring it is in the best condition is vital to achieving healthy, profitable crops. Kings and Frontier trials, particularly around green cover, have produced interesting and exciting results to evidence this.
As we all work harder to take care of our soils and improve growing conditions for crops, Frontier has developed a new soil health report. This takes soil testing to the next level, examining the physical, chemical and biological properties of soil and reporting on:
- Soil density
- Compaction vulnerability
- Broad spectrum nutrient analysis
- Organic matter content
- Soil texture
- Potential nitrogen release
- Microbial activity
- Soil vigour.
This information provides an accurate starting point from which effective action plans can be created. By working with expert advisors, these can be used to address soil health, plan crop inputs and ultimately improve yields.
Do your bit for Operation Pollinator
Two seed mixes developed by Kings to attract and benefit pollinating insects and farmland birds have been popular with growers, selling 250ha of the Bees n Seeds mix and 213ha of Annual Wildflower mix to create hundreds of hectares of valuable new habitat.
The Annual Wildflower mix contains cornfield annuals, crimson clover, red clover and phacelia which provide a prolonged flowering period and sustained supply of food, bridging the hungry gap in food availability for pollinating insects. With phacelia, mustard, brown mustard, fodder radish, Gold of Pleasure, sunflower, kale rape and buckwheat, the spring sown Bees ‘n’ Seeds mix provides a wealth of valuable pollen and nectar through the late summer, as well as an abundance of seed for wild birds through the winter months.
Farmers are in a great position to create environments for pollinators to flourish by providing a range of foraging habitats with diverse, rich nectar and pollen nutrition alongside suitable areas for nesting. It is hoped that growers’ interest and enthusiasm for the initiative will continue and both mixes will be available in 2016 at the same reduced cost which includes essential agronomic support from Kings.
To get your Operation Pollinator seed and find out more about how your farm can help wildlife, contact Belinda Bailey at
or call Kings on 0800 587 9797.