Dry conditions are influencing black-grass control


Ian Lutey of R. H. Topham and sons Ltd, in South Cambridgeshire talks about how the continuing dry conditions are influencing his black-grass control.

“At the moment we are taking out volunteer oilseed rape and then we will be starting cultivations on fields where we have left the stubbles until now to allow the black-grass to deteriorate in the sunshine.

We did finish harvest a bit earlier than usual and we have tried to be brave and leave stubbles uncultivated for a lot longer than we would normally. I think black-grass dormancy is probably lower this year but the lack of moisture here is inhibiting germination. We are still very dry; we have only had 35mm since the 26th of May, which has its benefits and its challenges.

Depending on how big a flush of black-grass we get; we will spray one or two flushes off ahead of winter wheat drilling. However, with the potential pressure on glyphosate we have to be sensible about how we use it, there has to be enough black-grass there, we can’t go out and apply it willy-nilly.

Without glyphosate I would have to question remaining an arable farmer in East Anglia, currently it is a pretty vital part of our system. I could manage for a few years without it but the problem would be long-term, the weed seed pressure would just build up and build up until it became uncroppable.

Black-grass needs a whole different mind set. Everything we do is driven around black-grass and having as diverse a cropping rotation as we can to try to challenge the weed and its growth habits

The black-grass here was horrendous when I started 11 years ago, however, I have got used to farming with it so I am reasonably happy with where the levels are now, as it is sustainable. We haven’t got rid of it. We use delayed drilling, high seed rates, stacking residuals, pre-harvest glyphosate, cultivations; some shallow, some deep and we plough when necessary. Carrying out all these processes is allowing us to continue growing economic crops.

I don’t see our black-grass problems going away; we have decreased it significantly over the last 11 years but we are only one dry autumn away from going backwards quite rapidly. With one bad autumn or one bad crop you lose about five years’ worth of gains on the weed.

Historically, once, when I made the wrong decision cultivation wise, I had to whole-crop a field of wheat and send it to an AD plant as the best option, economically it meant we lost a lot of money but we did it for the long-term benefit of the farm.”