“Weather Conditions Unlike Anything Experienced Before” – Arable Farming – Darryl Shailes

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Darryl Shailes v2These weather conditions are unlike anything I can ever remember experiencing before.

As the seasons draws to a close, we don’t need reminding what a challenge it has been since it started raining in September. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced anything like it and no-one I’ve spoken to can remember anything worse.

This comes at a time when the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi in Africa is now down to a trickle. These dramatic changes in weather are all making us wonder how we can make the growing of crops more resilient and able to withstand the more extreme weather patterns we are now witnessing.

We haven’t had a significant flood in the garden yet as the tides have been with us, but it must come soon and we’re considering what we can do – certainly we will clean the ditches, at least.

Resilience and sustainability are some of the biggest challenges in agriculture and it is not being helped by the loss of actives, which is having a significant adverse effect on crop management techniques.

The cover crops we’re trying to grow, to add organic matter, stabilise the ground in extreme rain events and improve soil structure, aren’t having it easy either. Flea beetle moving in from oilseed rape crops have been attacking them too, an unforeseen consequence of the neonicotinoid ban.


It’s negative to keep going on about losses, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand and hope something will come along to save us.

We must look at whole farm integrated management to solve some of the issues. Every decision we make can have a knock-on effect. The bee keepers are concerned that, with the loss of neonics, there may not be enough OSR around for the bees to feed on next summer.

As we found out at our Fenland Potato Results Day last month, the new variety we want to grow to combat potato cyst nematode has late maturity and managing the haulm in the dull cool weather later in the season will be difficult with the loss of diquat. It also breaks dormancy early and we can’t use CIPC presenting us with another challenge.

We need to make best use of our knowledge to ensure these unforeseen consequences are foreseen and managed, requiring fresh thinking.

With sugar beet, just because we’ve ordered a low bolting variety, would I not be better to wait a bit, let the soil get warmer and drier to prevent damage to the structure with cultivations? If it goes in well and grows fast, it helps combat weeds, soil pests and virus transfer from aphids. If the seed is drilled too early into wet, cool soils it allows every soil pest to have a nibble, adding to concerns about herbicides in the frost, especially with the loss of desmedipham, making it more vulnerable to aphids and virus transmission for longer.

So, let’s look forward to the New Year and a new spring season, armed with well thought out and structured plans using the knowledge we have at our fingertips, not dwell on things out of our control. Nature and farming move on, and we have to adapt.