With Harvest ‘22 at an end, TMAF Farm Manager David Jones reflects on the value of the data he has gathered along with the farm’s crops.
Ever since I started my farming career, I have either wanted it to rain or wish it would stop. The current mid-Norfolk rainfall for 2022 (Jan-Aug) is 160mm. That is 10 mm less than 1976. So, we can stop banging on about 1976 and start saying “Remember that dry year of 2022?”.
Digging into our data
We all love a weather statistic to quote. The statistics don’t care if you are a climate change denier or believer. At Morley we have loads of weather data. It is how you analyse it that’s important. Looking at the data, two points stand out for me and made me ask this question: how do we adapt to different weather?
This graph shows the Morley rainfall deviation from the mean. You can see there is no such thing as an average rainfall year. It is always all over the place. And the 10 years 2010-2020 have been 0.5 degrees warmer than the previous 30 years. This is according to data obtained from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Langley Research Center (LaRC).
Harvesting two things at once
New for 2022, is the Crop Scan 3300 we have fitted to our combine. This measures grain protein every 5 seconds. It works on all crops – wheat, barley, oats, OSR etc – alongside yield mapping. Whilst we are harvesting crops, we are also harvesting data, which sounds great as with it we can make better agronomic decisions. The clever bit however is how we look at the data like the weather records.
With the new combination of yield and protein maps we hope to be able to improve our nitrogen use efficiency (NUE). Nitrogen fertiliser has never been cheap. Now though, it is eye-wateringly expensive. Anything to improve efficacy can make a big difference. Over the years it has been the cost vs. output that has been important. Increasingly, it is the environmental impact vs. output. The rational is very similar only now the increased cost has focused the mind to do more and quicker.
Reflections on Harvest 2022
Harvest ‘22 has been a mix of surprises and disappointment. Some crops have performed well in terms of yield and quality. Our winter barley Maris Otter yielded 7 t/ha with a specific weight of 72 kg/hl. Our spring barley produced good yields with acceptable grain nitrogen. With rye, some of our fields gave a respectable 9 t/ha of grain plus 5 t/ha of straw whereas the biggest field did 5 t/ha of grain.
I am continuously collecting my own ‘data’/memories and questioning the differences, remembering previous cropping/seasons/cultivations/time of drilling/herbicide use etc. We always want to do the best job possible. But, here’s one example of challenges. We have a small field where during maize harvest the contractors, for some reason, used the headland to drive trailers on, rather than a track. When planting the wheat crop, we managed to lift the soil and I actually drilled it twice. It did not look good, with seed visible on the surface and some hidden under lumps of compacted soil. This headland yielded 11 t/ha.
I think these are the main lessons from this year. Be flexible. Learn from your actions. Adapt to the conditions. And consider the long term. The weather will do what it likes, commenting on it won’t do me a lot of good. It’s the decisions I make and how I make those choices that matter most.
With harvest behind us, coming up in our updates from Morley:
- David Clarke goes to a big soil science conference in Glasgow
- More about the protein monitor and Nitrogen Use Efficiency
- And we get selfies with all the people we work with on the farm.