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May 3, 2013

Agrii 15t/ha Challenge Crop

With continuing cool weather conditions, progress remains slow for the Agrii Best of British Wheat 15t/ha Challenge Crop, as it does for so many other winter cereals around the country.

But while many regions have yet to dry out fully after the persistent autumn and winter rain, Agrii agronomists Todd Jex and Tom Goodman are fortunate enough to be growing their crop on the free-draining chalky soils of the Wilton Estate, Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Despite the land being dry and workable, though, soils remained too cold for nutrient uptake and crop growth – just 2oC when Arable Farming visited the site on April 2.

Mr Goodman says: “Little grows below 4 oC. This is the bare minimum  most crops require, so we urgently need the soil temperature to rise.”

The impact of the cold has been all too apparent in the purple discolouration of the challenge crop’s leaves – a clear sign of its early season difficulty in taking up essential nutrients in general and phosphate in particular.

However, an application of 50kg/ha nitrogen and 67kg/ha sulphur as Sulphur N ( S03) at the end of March should give the crop a timely boost as soon as soil temperatures rise, say the two agronomists.  

The next fertiliser split, planned for mid-April, will be in liquid form (NitroFlo 30) as, with the exception of the first dose as a solid to deliver the sulphur, the farm applies all its nitrogen as liquid.

The cold weather has led to a re-think of early spraying plans. A pre-T0 application of low temperature PGR to encourage root and tiller development plus mildewicide, if necessary, was originally planned. But this has been over-taken by the conditions. So the programme will now start with a T0 applied in mid-April to target leaf four emergence.

As Mr Jex predicted in our last report, the challenge crop is suffering some septoria infection. So the two agronomists remain focused on this as their primary disease target, designing their T0 fungicide to combine both protectant and curative activity.

Mr Goodman said “Our T0 will consist of a fungicide to control the existing septoria, a multi-site protectant to protect the emerging leaf four and lower leaves, a bio-stimulant to encourage root development, a PGR to further promote root growth and discourage stem elongation by suppressing the plant growth hormone gibberellin, plus a prescriptive trace element mix of manganese and magnesium.”

The application will be triazole and morpholine-based, in combination with folpet – Capalo + Phoenix + NutriPhite PGA + Meteor + trace elements.

With the weather warmer in February than in the first week of April, a rapid rise in temperature and some rain would be welcomed in the coming weeks to allow the crop to develop its tillers and biomass, adds Mr Jex.

At the start of the second week of April, the challenge crop had reached growth stage 30 (GS30), with three to six tillers. “The ear has finally begun to move,” says Mr Goodman.

A plant count on April 10 confirmed progress to date. “A tiller count today indicates we have 750+ shoots/m2,” he reports. This is a good place to be given the tough conditions we’ve had to endure so far.”

In spite of the difficult start to the season, the two agronomists remain upbeat about prospects for their challenge crop, which they consider to be faring well in comparison with many other crops in the area.

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