Arable News

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Field Focus November 2018

Our Northumberland-based agronomist reckons that the perfect conditions this autumn have resulted in winter crops drilled up in record time. However, by contrast, drilling in the East Midlands is delayed due to the extremely dry conditions that have continued on from the summer months. Dominic Kilburn writes.


Speaking on the 10th October, AICC agronomist Jim Callighan said that all winter crops had been drilled up barring a small amount of wheat following potatoes – and this he reckoned was a record for the area.

Not troubled by black-grass like those further south, waiting for (and then spraying off) stale seedbeds is a less important feature on a landscape where brome is the key target weed. As a consequence, variety choice for his growers revolves around those that are more suited to the early sowing slot.

“Group 3 Barrel has done well for us in this region,” commented Jim, who suggested that the variety performs well whether sown early or late. Its stable-mate, Bassett has also yielded well in the early slot, he pointed out.

“Soft Group 4 variety Revelation also performs well when sown early.”

Jim said that hard Group 4 feed Grafton is still popular for early sowing while Group 1 Skyscraper is often selected by  those sowing fields after potatoes from mid-October.

“That’s late for us!” he exclaimed.

Reflecting on the performance of crops at harvest, he suggested that yields were consistently good across the full range of winter crops grown, in particular the hybrid barley, with just those on the lighter land struggling in the drought. However it was the quality of crops that really shone through – an important factor considering much of the wheat is grown for premium markets where good protein, for example, is key, pointed out Jim.

He said that increased use of biostimulant and amino acid-based products applied to wheats at T0 and T1 meant that crops kept growing during the summer drought and were part responsible for their excellent quality, while the extended sunshine hours also played their part.

He also attributed very high oil content in oilseed rape crops to amino acid-based products applied just before, and during, flowering.

“We’ve been experimenting for several years with these products and following the arrival of the ‘Beast from the East’ earlier in the year, crops looked like they needed a boost so we decided, in some cases, to go with biostimulants instead of fungicides.”

With an early harvest and good start to the autumn, oilseed rape crops have got away well and are already past the vulnerable stage for slugs, not that the pest has been an issue in OSR or wheat as yet.

“Cabbage stem flea beetle isn’t an issue for oilseed rape growers here, but winter stem weevil can be and crops will receive a pyrethroid in November if thresholds are met.

“Crops will also be a bit forward in places and so a PGR application is likely in November along with leaf spot control if the disease is prevalent.”

Jim pointed out that the acreage of Clearfield varieties increases each season as their yields improve, while they offer growers the opportunity to continue to grow the crop on land affected by charlock and fumitory weeds.

Jim Callighan can be contacted on email: [email protected]


By contrast, East Midlands-based adviser Christina Scarborough said that many growers are only just starting to think about drilling winter wheat – some because they are delaying on fields worst-affected by black-grass, but the majority because of the dry weather that has continued on from the summer months.

Also speaking on the 10th October, she reckoned 10–15 per cent of winter crops had been drilled up so far.

Established oilseed rape is small and vulnerable to flea beetle, and some crops have already received their third pyrethroid spray – something she said she doesn’t recommend lightly.

“The pyrethroid seems effective but it’s needed again two weeks later,” commented Christina. “Slow emergence and growth means the crop is vulnerable and the conditions are ideal for flea beetle development.”

As a consequence she has ruled out any herbicides being applied to OSR for now. “Firstly I don’t think the chemical will work effectively in this dry weather and, if we did spray, there would be a ‘hot’ layer for the seed to chit through.

“We need to wait to see if there will be a crop at the end of it,” she stressed.

Christina said that she was also loathed to apply pre-emergence herbicides to wheat and barley on anything but the worst affected black-grass land, and she was concerned about some of the programmes she’d heard being recommended. “Growers need to think carefully if their agronomist has recommended the ‘normal’ full-blown pre-emergence stack in these extremely dry conditions, and ask the question why.

“There is still a good tool box of chemistry in a typical pre-em stack that can be used at peri-emergence, or early post-emergence instead, and right now we aren’t seeing any black-grass come through,” she said.

On the positive side – Christina commented that maize yield and quality had been good and will go some way towards offsetting the feed deficit some livestock farmers have experienced having fed winter rations during the summer drought.

Christina can be contacted via email: [email protected] or tel: 07969507082.

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