National Blackgrass Centre of Excellence

National Blackgrass Centre, Brampton, Cambridgeshire, 2017

National Black Grass Centre of Excellence

Now in its seventh year, the holistic approach to grass weed control continues with research again applied in a commercial situation. Hybrid winter barley has now replaced 2nd winter wheat and spring wheat is being utilised in the lower pressure soil zones.

Because the Brampton site has developed predominantly around the commercial application of the researched techniques, we are able to identify real life issues and adapt our management to have maximum impact in controlling black grass. We are also able to research new opportunities as they present themselves, and a number of fields last autumn were sown in the last week of September, following assessment of the black grass numbers present in the context of the previous five years of management in those fields. This demonstrates that we are not locked into a late October drilling window when a sustained, planned and technically sound management approach is implemented across the rotation.

Alternative cultivation strategies and cover cropping are featured. With black grass levels continuing to decline on the site, cover crops have this year been included for the first time in the commercial management of seedbeds and weed control. Previous experimental investigation on the site was suggesting that black grass levels were too high for reliable cover cropping success.

Spring Barley remains the dominant spring crop for competing with black grass. Agronomic input on the heavier, moisture retentive soils at Brampton to optimise the output from this crop remains a key feature of our research. Optimising establishment, varietal choice and output featured at our open days.

The trials at Brampton still focus on integrating the latest research from all areas into the commercial farming operation. This allows us to identify the consequences of one operation upon other operations planned for later in the year or the infield impact across the rotation.

During the past five years we have trialled, tested and developed cultivation tools and establishment techniques that optimise both black grass cultural control and herbicide impact. The benefits of these tools are now becoming clear to see, with extremely high levels of control delivered now across the site and rotation. We are continuing to develop this area and hope to have further enhancements on show in the future.

Varieties, seeding rates, sowing dates and herbicide interactions have all been investigated during the past five years and each year sees us move on to the next commercial stage, utilising the optimum approach indicated by this work. We do not repeat this work continually at Brampton, as our aim is to reduce the levels of black grass to the absolute minimum across the site.

Herbicide demonstration work continues, but the ‘untreated’ plots are culturally controlled levels of black grass which have allowed the herbicides to generate very high levels of control this season.

Black grass control levels across the site this season are very high. Your fears regarding the utilisation of alternative tillage techniques are addressed and the integration of soil management for soil health, soil resilience, increased soil organic matter, soil fertility, grass weed and general weed control and growing cost controls will be presented and discussed across the site.

Cost controls, in the current climate of reduced commodity prices, are a real focus on farm. The research at Brampton demonstrates clearly the positive interaction of management practises that address not only black grass, but increasingly the multitude of agronomic factors that interact across the rotation to achieve our shared goals.

Our open days offer a unique opportunity to see and discuss how all the elements practiced or being promoted on farm can come together to achieve a sustainable, affordable and long term strategy for soil health, cost reduction and effective black grass control.

Spring Cultivation Videos with Dick Neale:

The series of eleven short cultivation videos featuring Dick Neale at our black grass centre at Brampton, clearly demonstrating the effects of ‘conditioning crops’ and different soil management regimes on soil health, can be viewed on our video library.