Speaking in mid-September, Nottinghamshire based Arable Alliance and AICC agronomist Andrew Wells confirmed that harvest yields across the region had been varied in all crops but, considering the extreme weather in 2018, they were not as bad as had been anticipated.
Having said that, he admitted that on the lighter soils and where wheat had been drilled very late, the crop had not fared well.
“Considering how good crops looked at the end of May, and then the drought that followed through much of the summer, it was a season of unfulfilled potential,” commented Andrew.
“Maize harvest is just beginning and there is huge variation in its height – from 4–8ft – and there are root crops like beet and potatoes yet to be lifted and so we haven’t seen the last of the unfulfilled potential as yet,” Andrew added.
At the time of writing, he said that the majority of the rape area was drilled up with most crops at the cotyledon to 1-leaf stage and looking well set, although where there was a lack of moisture, some crops had yet to emerge.
Crops direct drilled around the 10th August however were well ahead, with some currently at the 4-true leaf stage.
Flea beetles made a rapid and unwelcome return to oilseed rape crops on 3rd September, following a very warm weekend – prior to that Andrew noted that there had been little sign of them.
“Flea beetle numbers have been much higher than in previous years and consequently I’ve applied more insecticide this season than I would normally. I have also encouraged growers to spray at night to better target the adult beetles when they are feeding on the crop.
“As a result we are just about hanging on to crops in the worst areas,” he added.
With nothing obvious appearing in the pipeline in terms of new insecticides to adequately control flea beetle, Andrew questioned whether growing less rape was one of few available solutions where infestations are known to be bad.
“I have however observed again that where we employ minimal soil disturbance when drilling, leaving the previous cereal stubble in place, this does appear to reduce the level of flea beetle infestation.”
Andrew reckoned that there appeared to be a bit less OSR in the ground this autumn, and less enthusiasm for spring pulses and spring wheat following last season’s difficulties, but more of an appetite for spring barley. “With reasonable prices currently being seen for cereals, more second wheat and barley is being planted, and because of an early start to the maize harvest in the area, there will be a better opportunity to get cereals in after that is finished.”
By the time this is being read, he suggested that the first of the winter wheat and winter barley drilling will be underway (in late September) on land untroubled by grass weeds, while mid-October onwards is his target for fields with a history of black-grass and ryegrass. “Stubbles are already greening up nicely and so growers should have a good opportunity for successful grass weed kill with glyphosate before drilling on that land begins.
“Some growers will be getting a little twitchy by then and of course so much depends on the weather at that time of the season,” he added.
With this season’s sugar beet harvesting campaign set to get underway shortly, Andrew commented that growing the crop next year could be a real challenge with the ban in place for neonicotinoid seed treatments. “I’m not relishing trying to deal with aphids next spring with products that don’t control them,” he said. “A lot of growers are young enough not to know what severe virus yellows looks like, however there is always the hope that we can get an ‘Emergency Authorisations’ use for more effective aphicides in time for the 2019 season,” he concluded.
Like Andrew Wells, Herefordshire-based Hillhampton Technical Services independent agronomist Antony Wade also reckoned that yields at harvest had been better than expected. “Despite slightly less drought in the West compared with other parts of the country, we were feeling a little pessimistic about potential yields, but, on the whole, although spring crops were poor, winter wheats and other autumn drilled crops did OK,” said Antony.
Similar to the experience of growers in Nottinghamshire hotspots, Antony said that flea beetle came in to crops at the exact same time in early September. “We’ve been lucky with flea beetle until now but this is the worst year to date,” he stressed. “We haven’t had to spray for flea beetle in previous years but that’s not been the case this time.”
Antony suggested that the lack of rainfall at the time of writing (in mid September) hadn’t helped, with crops sitting at 1-leaf and not getting away.
Like many agronomists across the country, he said he was doing all he could to persuade growers from starting their winter wheat drilling programmes too early, to help in the battle against the increasing appearance of black-grass in the region as well as long established threats of brome and ryegrass.
“We’ll spray off as many of the chitted weeds as possible pre-planting,” added Antony.
Looking further into October oilseed rape disease control is on the agenda, although, with fewer products available to control the key diseases, and with fungicide costs increasing, he will try and limit autumn applications to one spray. “Increasingly we are looking to varietal resistance to manage disease in oilseed rape,” he pointed out.
Antony has been involved in under-sown maize trials in recent years – a method of establishing a cover crop between the maize rows and left to protect the soil over-winter once the maize has been harvested. However trials have proved a challenge this year due to the lack of moisture and problems with cover crop establishment. “Cover crops planted at the same time as the maize fared better than that which was sown between the maize rows in June, and consequently struggled to establish due to lack of moisture.
“If anything, the cover crops in the trials this year competed for the little available moisture and that will have affected the maize yield – but it was an exceptional year to say the least!”
With a significant planned area of spring cropping on farms in the region, where cover crops for over winter soil protection (and grazing in some cases) have gone in after wheat and ahead of spring crops, they have established well, summed up Antony. “Cover crops can be tricky after a late harvest but this season, with harvest finishing in mid-August, they went in the ground in good time.”
Antony can be contacted on 07973243590 or on Twitter: @HTSagronomy.