The farming column with Sam Walton

A patch of wild oats along the headland of one of my fields.
A patch of wild oats along the headland of one of my fields.

I am often asked what arable farmers do at this time of year when hopefully all the necessary spraying and fertilising has been done for the forthcoming harvest.

Any arable farm which does not have any wild oats or black grass are either extremely fortunate or exceptionally good farmers, so perhaps they can go on holiday.

I wouldn’t say I have a mad infestation of them either but I have more than I like.

Last year there were no wild oats around at harvest and this year I have a massive infestation along a headland in each of two fields and I am scratching my head to think where they might have come from.

I honestly don’t know. It is a laborious job pulling them and carting them off in bags so next year I think I might just spray those two bits whether there appears to be any or not.

The trouble is that wild oats have several tillers which means any small ones can be missed. If left they will eventually appear again after you think you have finished, so you have to go through the crops again.

So what is so terrible about wild oats?

They are very prolific for one thing and one seed can produce a dozen attached stems. I well remember my late father-in-law, who would drive round his farm in his Land Rover and would not get out of it unless he saw a wild oat in a field!

He brought one back one day and sat at the kitchen table and counted the seeds on this rather abundant plant and there were just over 1,500! So that means they take up space, they utilise the fertiliser, they never get any disease, they grow way above the crop smothering it out, and when you do pull them up, there is a big gap in the field where they have been.

They also shed before the nurse crop is right and even if you could harvest them they have no nutritional value.