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“Doing nothing is the thing to do”

Date Added: 09/08/2016

Blog: By Richard Elsdon, Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

Action – ie “doing something” - is what is usually called for in almost every situation in life. Some experts suggest that we have a bias towards “action” and this is an emotional response rather than a rational one.

This hypothesis was examined by Ofer H. Azar, an economist at Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel.  His interest was in how investors make high-stakes decisions, but instead of working through a classic research approach, he decided to study how professional goal keepers deal with their most difficult task – that of stopping penalty kicks.

In a penalty kick, the football travels at about 80 mph giving the goal keeper a fraction of a second to react. Four out of five penalties result in a goal. After analysing over 300 kicks, the research showed that standing in the middle of the goal line and waiting for the kick to be taken was successful one in three times.

A goal keeper deciding to dive right resulted in a success rate of 12.6%, whilst diving to the left gave a 14% success rate.

So why dive? They’d be more successful standing in the middle and doing nothing. It seems that goal keepers would rather “do something” and fail, as at least they can then say they have taken action ie “tried.”

Now this idea, that nothing is the best thing to do, needs to be applied to newly harvested oilseed rape fields.  The shed oilseed rape and any other weed seeds need to be left, untouched, on the soil surface for about four weeks. During that time the seed should either germinate or be eaten by wildlife.  Leave that tractor, the size of a small bungalow in the shed a little longer!

Cultivating can so easily bury seed which will then become dormant. It is estimated that up to 5,000 seeds per square metre can be lost out of the back of the combine. Moving dry soil will drop the seed into dark dry conditions and into dormancy, only to re-appear as volunteers at the worst possible time some years later. If you must, cultivate no deeper than 5 cm.

However, by encouraging the shed seed to germinate on the surface and grow it may well enable the slug population to explode as they graze on the new growth. This is when action may be needed. I suggest that once volunteers are seen, they are sprayed off with the appropriate quantity of glyphosate. In doing so, you will also take out any weeds that have germinated.

After the four-week post-harvest “leave alone” period is up, I suggest that minimal depth cultivations are still the way to go. We are now being encouraged to plant winter wheat well into October to enable more flushes of black grass to take place and be dealt with pre drilling. By not cultivating or cultivating very shallowly, you will keep the seed on or near the surface and maximise germination.

(Pic courtesy Pauline Eccles)

Doing nothing will both reduce volunteer oilseed rape for the future and enable more weed seeds to germinate, making weed control cheaper in the following wheat crop.

“Doing something,” like a goalkeeper facing a penalty, is likely to be the wrong thing.

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