Arable News

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Field focus – March 2013

Agronomists around the country are hoping for a let up in the weather if only to give backward winter crops a timely nutritional boost

Agronomists around the country are hoping for a let up in the weather if only to give backward winter crops a timely nutritional boost and for the opportunity to get on top of any necessary weed control. Dominic Kilburn reports.North Yorkshire, County Durham and Carlisle areaAICC agronomist Andrew Fisher advises in North Yorkshire, County Durham and the Carlisle area on crops growing on everything from blow away sands to heavier clays and some peat. Combinable crops take up most of his time in addition to a small area of potatoes and some forage maize on livestock farms in the region.
Having been an agronomist in that part of the country for 30 years, Andrew said that he has never known a season quite as bad as this one. “It’s been horrendous,” he stressed. “There’s a handful of reasonable looking crops which were sown early, although many crops have gone backwards since the snowfall we had in January and more rain at the start of February hasn’t helped.
“And it’s been cold too,” he added.
He reckoned about 60-70 per cent of winter wheats will make it through the season, however approximately 30 per cent didn’t get drilled up. “We’re still hoping that by the time we get to the beginning of March that we will have had the opportunity to still get some Duxford and Invicta planted,” added Andrew.
Oilseed rape, he said, was in a similar situation of the area being within 60-70 per cent of where he’d originally planned it to be, but 10 per cent currently in the ground may not make it to harvest. Crops are still viable but with the soil so saturated it’s impossible to apply any nitrogen, he suggested. “My priority at the moment is to get a reasonable dose of nitrogen and sulphur on all winter crops to try to get them moving.”
He said that a few farms managed to get some post-emergence grass weed herbicides on wheat last autumn, and CTU + DFF residual mixes are planned for wheat and barley (with variety susceptibility in mind) and when the weather allows.
Othello (diflufenican + iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) will be applied in areas which are black-grass-free (and mainly for control of annual meadow grass, chickweed and cleavers) and Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) where black-grass is a threat.
Where oilseed rape needs replacing, spring rape will take its place to maintain the rotation and some mixed farms in the area will drill winter oats to replace winter wheat. They will either be harvested normally or as wholecrop for silage, he said. “Winter oats drilled in the spring are fine,” continued Andrew. “We have done it in the past and growers are also looking at the crop for straw.”
The spring bean acreage will also increase this spring, to be followed by winter wheat in the autumn. “There are a few farmers on the really heavy land however who might not bother at all in terms of a spring crop as by the time they get their soils to dry out sufficiently it will be too late, and putting a crop in at that point could have a knock-on effect to next autumn’s plantings.”  Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire AICC agronomist Antony Wade, said that where land is still very wet, then wheat and oilseed rape crops are looking poor with some patches lost to flooding, and growers in the region are desperate for drier weather to support travelling on the land and even for some cultivations to take place.
Out of the original planned area, he reckoned that 30-40 per cent of winter wheat didn’t get planted, however the majority of what is in the ground now should make it through to harvest.
In terms of oilseed rape; he suggested that more of this crop was initially drilled than winter wheat but he estimated that nearly 50 per cent of the planned area would not be making it to harvest.
Facing a larger area of land to be drilled up in the next few weeks, filling the gaps left behind by failed or undrilled winter cropping will be the priority rather than patching up fields, and spring crops will include spring oilseed rape, some spring wheats, barley and oats.
Antony said that there had been some oilseed rape crops where no weed control has been possible as yet and he was hoping to be able to apply some Crawler (carbetamide) before the end of February, but he noted that broad-leaved weeds including cranesbill and charlock needed to be taken care of with some careful timing of bifenox + oil before soft early spring growth.
“Where possible, we’ll be getting some early nitrogen on the rape and perhaps some foliar applied trace elements as it has sat there for so long with limited rooting in waterlogged soils and will need a tonic to hopefully kick-start growth,” he commented.
He pointed out that there were few weeds to be seen in the majority of wheat crops apart from the small number that were September planted last autumn. “Therefore I am hopeful of getting some residual chemistry on if I can but, if it gets too late, then I’ll be reliant on the contact products like Othello and Broadway Star (florasulam + pyroxsulam).”
Antony commented that it was hard to be thinking about fungicides for the wheats, with so many other tasks to be fulfilled when the weather allowed, and with such a range of crop size, but he said he would be planning for T0 fungicides to be applied to certain varieties where they have specific weaknesses to key diseases such as yellow rust. “There’ll be chlorothalonil in the T0 tank as a holding spray to reduce septoria loading at the bottom of the crop, and we could add in something for mildew which is often a problem with late planted crops.
“A PGR might also be included to promote and retain the tillers as much as possible although, if soils have warmed up, a small dose of early nitrogen will be more reliable to promote tillering on late drilled crops,” he added.  Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and WarwickshireAICC agronomist Nick Giddens advises on land in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire across combinable crops, potatoes and sugar beet.
Overseeing a variety of soil types – from tough Leicestershire clays to sands – he said that, generally speaking, oilseed rape crops didn’t look too bad in February although the really late drilled fields were suffering against a combination of anaerobic soils, pigeon damage and slugs.
He hoped to be applying some potash and nitrogen together prior to this issue of the magazine arriving on the doorstep in late February, and which would be quickly followed by 125kg/ha of 26N+37So3. However, with many crops still very backward, he said he was remaining cautious about the quantity of fertiliser he could apply.
He pointed out that Crawler remained the only option for the control of black-grass in oilseed rape during the remainder of February while Galera (clopyralid + picloram) or Dow Shield (clopyralid) would be considered for weeds such as thistles and mayweed.
With no fungicides applied to oilseed rape at all in the autumn, he said that a flusilazole-based product would also be planned for protection against phoma and light leaf spot – early signs of phoma were noted in November.
“For weed control; most of the wheats are looking at an Atlantis-based programme now while very few crops got a pre-em spray last autumn,” commented Nick. “We’ll certainly need more than the half rate of Atlantis, and probably 0.25-0.3kg/ha to be able to control the annual meadow grass that we have and we shall carefully consider which residual partner will go with it dependent on when we are able to travel.
“As with everything, there is a mixed picture at the moment regarding weed pressure in crops,” he added.
In terms of the black-grass, Nick suggested that it was going to be hard to determine the threat it posed this season and, while plants were currently not too advanced, he thought there may well be a flush of black-grass later this spring. “Hopefully, with the increased area of spring cropping, we will get more opportunities to hit the black-grass with cultivations and glyphosate applications,” he commented.
Looking ahead to T0 fungicides sprays, Nick said that SDHI fungicides were used in his cereal disease control programmes in 2012 but he will be assessing individual crop needs nearer the time. “It’s likely that a T0 will include Opus Team (epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph) or Cherokee (chlorothalonil + cyproconazole + propiconazole) at a 0.75 litre/ha rate on most rust prone varieties at that timing.”  Northants, Beds and Cambs
Further south and east, 3-Shires independent agronomist Gerald Collini advises mainly on land in Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire on heavy clays through to limestone brash.
Of his planted winter wheat area, 90 per cent appears to be in reasonably good condition while 10 per cent has had to be written off.
Oilseed rape however will be his first port of call with broad-leaved weed control of charlock, thistles and cleavers one of the priorities. “Several rape fields have been condemned and, with those remaining, it’s very much a case of ‘unfinished business’ particularly with no broad-leaved weed control carried out in the autumn.”
Gerald adds that grass weed control in oilseed rape has been very effective this season with autumn applications of propyzamide and carbetamide benefitting from sufficient soil moisture and achieving good control. “You must do all you can to take the black-grass out in oilseed rape around here as you just don’t kill it in winter wheat because of resistance to contact products,” he stressed.
For wheat, his priorities will be on the poorer crops first and while some will be unlikely to make it through the season, there will be the inevitable compromise in terms of the investment already made and their yield potential, he said.
Gerald pointed out that he advises on land that rarely plays host to spring cropping but some spring wheat is planned on land that couldn’t be drilled in the autumn. “There’ll be a little spring barley going in too which will make a good entry for oilseed rape later this year.
“In addition, a lot of linseed is planned – it’s the ultimate cleaning crop for black-grass in my opinion and offers the opportunity of a glyphosate application pre-drilling, and a second chance to hit black-grass during desiccation of the crop later in the season.”
North Essex and east Hertfordshire
AICC member Jamie Mackay advises on land in north Essex and east Hertfordshire based at Samco & Shrim Farmers. Land in the main is chalky boulder clay with lighter, gravelly soils in places. All crops he advises on are combinable, and he said that 60-80 per cent of cereals went in to reasonable conditions last autumn. “About half the farms got all their cereals’ cropping requirement completed in the autumn but about 20 per cent were drilled in the late October to mid-December slot, and those are looking rough,” he commented.
“Some might still not make it,” he added, “although a final decision will be made by the beginning of March.”
In terms of oilseed rape, Jamie said that about one third got away well last autumn, another third struggled in the (long forgotten) dry conditions in September, while one third will be replaced by a spring crop, he suggested.
“Spring beans will be drilled behind failed oilseed rape as well as some spring oats too, and where winter wheat didn’t get drilled there will be mostly spring barley, with the intention of attaining malting quality.”
Looking forward into March, key priorities for Jamie will be getting some nitrogen on the majority of winter crops at the start of the month (if not before) and sulphur and nitrogen for winter oilseed rape. He noted that recent soil nitrogen sampling had revealed a surprising level of residual nitrogen remaining in the soil; 50kg/ha on land following second wheat and 70kg/ha after oilseed rape. “There’s a reasonable level of soil nitrogen across a number of farms and I think it’s the case that off-take has been modest in terms of yield in recent seasons and it hasn’t overly leached in the wet conditions.”
Thoughts are also turning to herbicides and Atlantis mixes are being planned as a back-up to mostly early post-emergence applied sprays to wheat that took place in the autumn. He stressed that there will also be a cautious approach to dose rates while crops are backward. Broadway Star will be applied to areas where brome is an issue, he added.
“In forward wheat crops we are watching out for varieties like Oakley and Solstice for early signs of rust as well as signs of mildew in late planted crops. We’ll be looking at a T0 in mid to late March including triazole + chlorothalonil mixes for foliar disease suppression. This is mainly aimed at mildew, yellow rust and septoria, although the perceived wisdom is that it is not worth spending too much money on the latter until the emergence of leaf 3.”
“We stuck to the traditional timings where we could last year and probably spent 30-40 per cent more on fungicides than in previous seasons, but I think that people who did this managed, on the whole, to keep on top of the high disease pressure we witnessed in 2012.”
Jamie added that he also saw a 3-4t/ha yield response from Oakley and Solstice from his 2012 fungicide programme although perhaps, as expected, there were lower responses from more disease resistant varieties like Scout and JB Diego.

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