On-farm comparisons highlight importance of consolidation for stale seedbed success13 November 2017
Minor disturbance of the soil surface coupled with good soil consolidation could dramatically boost the effectiveness of stale seedbeds as part of blackgrass management, on-farm comparisons by leading agronomy firm, ProCam, suggest.
Conducted on two farms in Northamptonshire, the work compared the amount of blackgrass germinating in five different stale seedbed areas of each field.
These were: with the stale seedbed prepared but left undisturbed; with the stale seedbed prepared and planted with a “sacrificial” wheat crop at three different seed rates; and with the stale seedbed prepared and the drill run over it but no seed planted.
Compared with the undisturbed area, results showed around ten times more blackgrass emerged in the stale seedbed areas where the drill had passed over them, says ProCam agronomist, Neil Woolliscroft, who organised the comparisons, irrespective of whether wheat seed had been drilled into them.
In turn, that meant more blackgrass was available for killing off before planting the real crop in these areas, he says, potentially reducing the weed burden in the crop itself.
“For some time, I’ve observed that the best way to get blackgrass to grow seems to be to plant a cereal crop in the middle of September,” says Mr Woolliscroft. “With this in mind, I wondered why more blackgrass grows in an early-sown crop than in a traditional stale seedbed prepared at the same time.
“There are two theories for this. Either, the blackgrass has some sort of response to the growing crop. Or, more simply, that the physical action of the drill or roll stimulates the blackgrass to germinate.
“The purpose of the trial work was to compare whether drilling of any kind – whether for a sacrificial wheat crop that would be killed off later, or to drill no seed – made any difference compared with a conventional, undisturbed stale seedbed.
“Three weeks after setting up the experiments, significantly more blackgrass had germinated in all areas where the drill had passed over them, whether seed was planted or not.”
Overall, it is likely that the effect observed was due to the consolidation action of the drill producing better soil moisture retention and better seed to soil contact,” Mr Woolliscroft suggests.
“Either way, there is a message in the work that to get the best effect from stale seedbeds, consolidation is key, and to perhaps consider the farm drill as the last operation when preparing a stale seedbed,” he adds.
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