Common terms used in Agriculture and in the countryside 

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Common terms used in Agriculture and in the countryside


Acre: An acre is the US unit of measure and is a square approximately 209 feet per side (=4840 sq. yds.). The amount one man and two oxen could plough in a day. It is gradually being replaced by the metric unit the Hectare.

Adjuvant: A substance other than water, when mixed in the spray mixture is intended to enhance the effectiveness of a pesticide.

Agribusiness: A progression from farming that combines agriculture and business. Large areas of land and large numbers of animals may be involved but with less interest in the environment and animal welfare than traditional family farms.

Agronomist: Qualified person who inspects crops and advises growers on agronomy, varieties, herbicides etc.

Air (Seed) Drill: A seed drill where air supplied by a fan is used as the medium to transport the seed from the metering unit to the coulters.

Ammonium nitrate: One of the main sources of artificial nitrogen fertiliser. Generally it is supplied as a prill and contains around one third of its weight as 'nitrogen'.

Anthrax: A serious, sometimes fatal disease of animals and humans caused by a soil borne bacteria.

Aphids: Small insects that feed by sucking the sap from plants. They are the carriers of many viruses that affect a range of plants and crops.

Auger: Long tubular pieces of equipment to move grain. Augers have a spiral screw inside an outer tube which pushes the grain from the lower end to the top end. They are usually powered by electric motors and vary in diameter from 75mm up to 300mm

Bale: A compacted and bound bundle of straw, hay silage etc. May be square or round varying in size from 30 kg to 100kg.

Baler: Implement which picks up swaths of straw or hay and compresses it into a compact rectangular or cylindrical bale. When the desired size is reached it is automatically secured with twine or net wrapping.

Bar: SI measure of pressure composed of 1000 millibar. Equal to around 14.2 lbs/sq.inch.

Barley: A cereal crop still popular in the UK although the acreage has reduced recently. It is identified by its 'awns' which are covered in tiny barbs and cling to clothing. Barley is used as animal feed or by the brewing industry.

Batch drier: A machine which dries grains by passing air (possibly heated by gas or oil) through a 'batch' and when dry will empty and refill itself with the next batch.

Bean: Field beans are normally grown as a high protein animal feed but some are for human consumption. They are generally allowed to ripen and dry which permits them to be harvested by combine.

Big Bags: Large generally polypropylene bags used for grain feed or fertiliser. Normally 500kg but some fertiliser is now in 600kg bags. Stockfeed may be supplied in 1000kg bags.

Bindweed: A common weed with a conspicuous white flower which can have severe effects on crop yields if unchecked. It is generally seen growing through hedges and on roadsides.

Bio-diesel: Automotive fuel manufactured primarily from oil seed rape (Canola) blended with diesel to reduce build up of atmospheric CO2.

Canola: In agriculture, canola is the name given to certain varieties rapeseed (particularly in US & Canada) plants or the oil produced from those varieties.

Capping: Soils cap when a fine seedbed is sown and firmed but heavy rainfall follows. This causes the soil surface to form a hard layer when it dries out which in turn can prevent the emergence of shoots from the sown seeds.

Caryopsis: The term used to describe the simple fruit produced by grasses, including cereals.

Catch-crop: This is a quick growing crop, opportunistically grown for livestock feed etc. If for example winter barley was combined in July a fodder crop could be quickly sown and eaten during the winter allowing a spring crop to be drilled normally.

Chain: A measure of length equal to 22 yards. or 20.1 metres.

Clamp: A large area with walls possibly of timber but normally concrete which is used to store Silage. The clamp is filled with chopped grass from a forage harvester and compacted by tractor or handler and then sealed by means of a polythene membrane. Most moderns clamps are roofed.

Cleavers: (Galium aparine) A scrambling weed with 'sticky' hairy seeds and leaves. A problem weed which can smother crops and is generally seen in hedgerows.

CO2: Carbon dioxide. A gas linked to global warming emitted primarily by fossil fuels. Growing crops absorb CO2 and produce oxygen.

Combine: Combine (Harvester) Normally a self propelled machine which cuts, thrashes and separates grain from straw which it leaves either swathed or chopped.

Compaction: When soil is compressed naturally or otherwise to the extent that water cannot drain away or plant roots penetrate. Sub soiling is carried out to alleviate this.

Compound: Compound (Fertiliser) is one which contains more than one nutrient (nitrogen potash phosphorus sulphur) as opposed to a 'straight'.

Coppice: Cutting a broad leaved tree to a stump to encourage many fresh straight shoots which can be used for walking sticks, hurdles etc.

Couch Grass: (Elymus repens) Very common in crops and grassland, couch reproduces by rhizomes as well as seed making it a constant problem.

Coulter: That part of a seed drill which actually works in the soil to place and cover the seed. They may be of the disc type or shoe type.

Crawler: Commonly used to describe a track laying tractor. Traditionally tracks were steel but modern tractors have rubber tracks.

Croft: A small (<50 acres) subsistence farm found in the highlands of Scotland. Most crofters have secondary jobs as a living cannot generally be made today.

Cultivation: Normally shallow tillage operations to improve, drainage, water conservation, aeration, or to control weeds.

Dessicate: To dry out. In a cropping sense, dessication usually means to apply a total herbicide to speed up the ripening and drying process.

Direct Drilling: Placing seed into soil which has not been cultivated by using a heavier than normal seed drill which is able to penetrate in hard/dry conditions. Also known as No-till drilling.

Ditch: A water channel dug to assist drainage or the mark a boundary. In this part of the world most are bordered by a hedge.

Draft: The effort required to pull an implement through the soil. Also the control on a modern tractor which keeps this load constant by raising or lowering the implement.

Drain: In the field sense a drain is a clay or plastic porous pipe buried at around 1 metre deep and covered with approximately 300mm gravel to collect and remove water from farmland.

Drill (seed): An implement used to place an exact amount of seed at a desired depth. This can be from 3kg/ha for canola to 250kg/ha for wheat.

Dykeback: A local term used to denote the area round the outside of a field which never gets full sun or wind because of the hedge or wall (dyke).

Erosion: A natural process whereby rocks, soil and other deposits are worn away by the action of water, ice, or wind.

Fallow: Land left without a crop for one or more years. A very basic way to improve the soil fertility.

Family Farm: The 'traditional' idea of farming where a relatively small farm is owned and managed over several generations by one family. Normally two or more generations are working simultaneously. Most are very efficient and environmentally benign.

Fertiliser: Generally accepted as 'artificial' nutrients supplied to the soil to replace soil reserves taken off in crops. The major nutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.

Field Capacity: The point at which soil becomes saturated and cannot hold more rainfall. If drainage is good, this should rarely occur but if it is poor, runoff and erosion may occur.

Forage: Leafy crops that are (intentionally) grazed by livestock.

Forage Harvester: A machine powered by a tractor or self propelled which lifts a swath of wilted grass and chops it finely before delivering it to a following trailer. It is ensiled in a clamp

Fungicide: A chemical (natural or synthetic)used to control or destroy fungi in growing crop. If left untreated diseases like mildew (Powdery) can have a devastating effect on crops.

Fusarium: A disease which infects the plants at a very early age and may kill seedlings, or at the ripening stage where ear development is affected and grain quality reduced.

Glyphosate: A total translocated herbicide. Commonly used in cleaning stubbles or grassland destruction. Roundup is the best known trade name.

GM: Genetically Modified - plants which have their structure modified by introducing genes from another species of plant or animal. None are grown commercially in the UK, yet.

Grainstore: Purpose built structure designed to store grain in without risk of damage due to moisture, fungi, vermin etc. Temperature and humidity may be monitored and controlled.

Growth Stage: A decimal system to describe the progress of a plant through the season. GS 0 is a dry seed, GS 50 is flowering, GS 90 is ripening.

Harrow: A shallow working trailed implement used to break down clods. Disc harrows may be used for primary cultivation whereas tined harrows are used pre or post sowing.

Harvest: Gathering a crop from the field when it is ripe.

Headland: The area of a field adjacent to a fence or hedge where machinery turns. This is normally cultivated last to avoid compaction in the soil.

Hectare: Measurment of area consisting of 10,000 sq. metres. Equal to roughly 2.47 acres.

Herbicide: A substance used to control weeds. May be selective or total. Glyphosate (Roundup) is a total herbicide, Cheetah S (Fenoxaprop-P-ethyl) will kill only wild oats in cereals and some other crops.

Humus: The final stage in the decomposition of soil organic matter. It is essential in maintaining soil structure.

IACS: (Integrated Administrative Control System) The method used to control the amount of crops grown on farms by the EU. Financial penalties apply to those who do not follow the rules to the letter. It has been superseded by an even more complex and bureaucratic system (2005) called the SFP (Single Farm Payment).

Indian Summer: A period of unusually mild dry weather occurring in Autumn.

Insecticide: A pesticide used to control unwanted insects either in a growing crop or in grain stores and mills.

Irrigation: Supplying the water needs of growing crops by gravity or pumped systems in areas where natural precipitation is insufficient.

Kilogram: SI unit of weight. 1,000 kg = 1 ton. 1kg = 2.2 lb.(Pound)

Leaching: The loss of nutrients, pesticides, lime, or other elements of the soil by the action of water as it percolates through the soil profile.

LERAP: (Local Environmental Risk Assessment Plan) A set of regulations which control use of certain pesticides adjacent to watercourses. Records must be kept when a 'Lerap' applies to any operation.

Ley: Field sown with grass for one or more years. Short term leys usually yield heavier crops than longer leys due to the grass varieties used. They may be noted as a three year ley, 5 year ley etc.

Lifters: Attachments for the header of a combine which assist in combining a lodged crop by easing it off the ground.

Lime: Generally ground limestone which is used to neutralize soil acidity. Essential for crop growth and application rates average 5000kg/ha.

Linkage (three point): The lift system universally used on tractors to attach and lift machinery such as ploughs, cultivators, drills etc. consisting of two lower powered lift arms and a fixed top central link.

Lodging: The term used to describe a crop which is falling over due to bad weather, (wind/rain) disease, or an inherent varietal weakness. Severe lodging makes harvesting extremely difficult due to moisture being trapped in the closely packed stems and lack of airflow.

MAFF: Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food Monolithic government department that changed its name to DEFRA after the Foot & Mouth fiasco.

Malting: The process of taking barley, steeping it in water, germinating it and then drying it. The dried product is malt and has many uses in food manufacturing and alcohol production.

Manure: A mixture of bedding straw and animal dung which is lifted out of sheds and stored in heaps (middens) for a period to decompose before being spread on the land. Provides a useful amount of organic matter and some nutrients.

Marker: A device fitted to many soil working implements to allow the tractor driver to return down the field at an exact distance from the previous bout by following a groove in the soil made with a disc or tine. The mark may be followed by the wheel or the centre of the tractor.

Meadow Grass: An annual grass which is a pernicious weed in cereal crops.

Metering (Seed): A seed metering unit on a seed drill controls the flow of seed in relation to ground speed so that exactly the correct weight/area is sown.

Mildew (Powdery): A common disease of most plants but of significance in cereals. White fluffy pustules appear on leaf or stem if rubbed off a brown stain is revealed. May spread to the ear if unchecked.

MinTill: Minimum Tillage. A term used for practically all primary cultivation where the plough is not used. Depths may vary from 150mm to only 50mm and may use tines, discs and presses.

Monoculture: Planting the same crop in the same field year after year with no crop rotation.

Mouldboard: That part of a plough which actually turns the soil after the share has cut the furrow bottom.

Nematicide: A pesticide used to control unwanted nematodes (eelworms), generally in root crops such as potatoes.

Net Blotch: Primarily of barley, this disease appears as small brown lesions which develop to produce a network of brown lines.

Nitrogen: Generic term used by farmers for fertilisers supplying nitrogen to plants (e.g. Ammonium nitrate)

Nitrogen fixation: The conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to plant compounds by microorganisms in soil and root nodules. (e.g. in legumes such as clover or peas)

Node: The point on a plant stem where a leaf or leaves are attached. A new stem leaf or even root may grow from this point.

Non Inversion Tillage: Similar to MinTill where crop residues are mixed with the top layer of soil instead of being buried by ploughing.

Oat: It is thought that oats are native to Britain and can be grown on sites of low fertility. Used as horse fodder and of course for Scottish porridge and oat cakes.

Oilseed rape: The name used in the UK for Canola. primarily grown to produce oil for foodstuffs. GM and hybrid varieties produce specialist oils used in pharmaceuticals and industry.

Organic: Low output farming using rotations, clover, and very few artificial fertilisers, pesticides and antibiotics.

Organophosphates: A class of insecticide that was originally synthesized during World War II as a nerve warfare agent. Compulsory sheep dipping in the UK exposed many people sensitive to these compounds. Examples of OPs include chlorpyrifos and sarin.

Pathogen: Any micro-organism that causes a disease in plants or animals.

Pesticide: Generic term for any Plant Protection Product which may be subdivided into herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

PH: The acidity index of the soil. Various crops perform better at optimum ph so certain crops may be suited to particular fields or areas. PH may be raised (more alkaline) by the application of ground limestone.

Phosphorus: An elemental nutrient required for crops. Normally applied as a phosphate.

Plough: A device which has changed little over the centuries used to turn the top layer of soil over and bury trash ready for the next crop.

Pollen: Fine particles containing the fertilizing element of plants (male) formed by the anthers of plants. Most allergies are caused by grass and tree pollens.

Potassium: An essential elemental nutrient required for crop growth, normally supplied as inorganic 'K'.

Pound: Measure of weight consisting of 16 ounces. There were 2240 pounds in a ton.

Power harrow: A shallow working secondary cultivator with rotating tines which stir up and break the soil down to a seedbed. Regularly have seed drills fitted to carry out two operations with one pass.

PreEm: Pre Emergence - generally refers to herbicides which are applied to the soil before but more commonly after sowing but before the plant begins to appear above the soil surface. Also known as residual herbicides.

Propane: A liquefied petroleum gas (C3H8) containing more heat value than natural gas that is used for grain drying.

PTO: Power Take Off. A splined shaft at the front or rear of a tractor used to supply power to attachments such as mowers or power harrows. Standard speeds are 540 & 1000 rpm.

Raddle: A sticky coloured paste applied to a ram’s belly at breeding time to enable served ewes to be marked. Sometime refers to a harness carrying a wax block which serves the same purpose.

Rhynchosporium: A particular problem on barley large oval lesions with brown margins spread all over the surface of a leaf if uncontrolled.

Rigg and Furrow: Undulations in pasture especially on clay soils due to land being consistently ploughed in the same manner to give 5 or 7 yard 'riggs'. This assisted drainage but made travel with modern machinery more difficult.

Roller: Implement used to firm down seedbeds to give better soil/seed contact to improve germination. Also used to push down stones in cereals and grass to prevent damage to harvesting machinery.

Rotation: Changing crops in a field on an annual basis to maximise yield and minimise disease, soil damage etc.

Runoff: A general term applying to water which for many reasons remains on the surface of land and flows to the lowest point possibly causing erosion or leaching in the process.

Rust: A fungal disease of many plant species but a problem on cereals and beans. It removes green leaf area and drains the plant of strength reducing yield and quality.

Rye: Now a minority crop, rye will grow on poor 'hungry' soils. Resembling barley with awns but with a much taller straw it is still favoured in Eastern Europe.

Seedbed: Land which has been cultivated sufficiently to provide a fine enough particle size and is firm enough to allow seeds to germinate quickly and evenly.

Septoria: The main disease of wheat in the UK. Septoria tritici can have devastating effects on wheat by removing green leaf area. It appears as grey/green striped lesions which expand and develop to eventually turn the whole leaf brown.

Set-aside: Land that is compulsorily removed from production for one or more years. Compensation is given towards the value of crop that could have been grown.

SFP: Single Farm Payment. The EU scheme ostensibly designed to simplify the subsidy of food production but soon became complex and bureaucratic.

Share (Plough): That part of the plough which operates horizontally and cuts the furrow bottom.

Shuttle: A device on a tractor or handler which allows direction to be reversed at the flick of a lever with no requirement to use the clutch.

Side Knife: When combining crops such as canola where the foliage is dense and tangled, a vertical sideknife is used on the combine header to cut through the stems and prevent the header becoming entangled in the crop.

Sidlings: When working a field with multiple slopes, it may be necessary to traverse across the hill. The tractor and implement tend to slide down this slope or crab across the hill, these bouts are sidlings.

Silage: Silage is grass which is mown wilted chopped and ensiled in a clamp where anaerobic fermentation takes place. Thus most of the nutrients are maintained in the silage.

Silo: A tower, generally cylindrical made of steel or concrete used to store grain or silage in an airtight atmosphere. It is filled from the top and emptied at the bottom.

Slag: A by-product of the iron industry, slag consists of mainly silica and lime with many trace elements. This may be used to improve the fertility of grassland.

Slurry: Animal dung mixed with water and urine which can be handled as a semi-liquid.

Spear (Grain): A tubular, pointed instrument about 2 metres long which has apertures that may be opened once it has been pushed into a pile of grain allowing a representative sample to be taken.

Sprayer: A term used for an implement used for applying pesticides or liquid fertiliser to crops. Generally nozzles convert liquid under pressure to droplets

Spreader: (Manure) spreader is an implement resembling a trailer which has powered rotors to chop and spread manure evenly.

Stone: Measure of weight equal to 14 lbs. 8 stone equalled one hundredweight.

Stook: A group of 6 or 8 sheaves of corn which were stacked on end in pairs to allow the grain and straw to dry.

Straight: Straight (fertiliser) is one which contains only one nutrient e.g. nitrogen or potash as opposed to a compound which contains more than one.

Straw: That part of the crop that is left after thrashing the grain. It may be baled for use as stock bedding or low grade feed or chopped and incorporated to help improve soil structure.

Strobilurin: A recent development in fungicides using chemicals extracted from another fungus. They have a suppressive effect on other fungi but also assist the plant in remaining green.

Stubble: The remains of the plant stem left behind after harvesting a crop.

Subsoil: That layer of soil normally below cultivation depth but which has a great effect on the performance of the topsoil. Subsoiling is an operation where a deep cultivator runs through the subsoil at a depth of around 450 mm when the soil is dry to shatter it.

Sugar Beet: A variety of beet (Beta vulgaris) which is specifically grown because of its high sugar content which can be processed to produce quality sugars.

Sulphur: A non metallic, trace element which is essential in plant growth. Atmospheric deposition has been adequate to replenish soil reserves until recently when fossil fuel emmissions have been 'cleaned up'. Sulphur (sulfur) must now be applied to crops in fertilisers.

Swath: A row of grass or straw which is laid ready for baling or similar operation.

Telescopic: Telescopic handlers are a development of the traditional forklift. They have a boom which can be raised or lowered within which is another section which can be extended to give greater height or reach. Most can have a variety of attachments fitted such as grain buckets manure forks bale grabs or pallet forks.

Thrashing Mill: Before combines most grain was separated from straw by means of permanently sited mills in farm buildings. The next step before combines were large mobile mills. The principles of thrashing and separation has changed little over the years.

Tillering: The stage a plant goes through when side shoots are developing which each may carry its own flower and ear. Each such shoot is a tiller.

Tilth: The quality of a seedbed. The finer the tilth the better protected the seeds are and the better the soil/seed contact for moisture transfer.

Tine: A rigid or sprung leg of a cultivator which carries a wearing 'point'.

Ton: A (metric) ton consists of 1000 kilograms. An imperial ton equals 1016 kg.

Top Dress: Applying fertiliser to the surface of soil (normally in a growing crop) so that rain will wash the nutrients into the soil.

Tramline: A method to mark a field by halting seed flow during drilling to leave blank strips in the crop which subsequent tractor journeys may be made. Essential for the accurate application of pesticides and fertiliser.

Weed: 'A plant growing in the wrong place.' End users have demanded fewer weed seeds in grain etc. over the years requiring fields to become weed free. Field margins however maintain the diversity necessary to support various 'weeds'.

Wheat: The major cereal crop grown in the UK. Wheat falls into two categories, hard, generally suitable for milling (flour) and soft, usually used for distilling animal feed and biscuit making.

Wild Oat: (Avena Fatua) A grass weed which has incredible survival traits. It can be a major problem in cereal crops where it reduces yield and grain quality.

Windrow: Similar to a swath. The crop is laid in rows to be dried by the wind and sun.

Yellow Rust: A disease of cereals which is generally controlled when treatments for other diseases are made. Yellow pustules appear on the leaf and develop between the veins to give a striped effect.



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