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March 26, 2013

Best of British Wheat

Cold weather and cold, wet soils are adding to the challenges faced by Agrii agronomists Tom Goodman and Todd Jex in their bid to grow a 15t/ha wheat crop. Georgina Haigh caught up with them for an early season progress report.

At the time of writing (March 6) the Best of British Wheat 15t Challenge crop had reached GS25. Despite slow progress over the past month, young Agrii agronomists Todd Jex and Tom Goodman remain up-beat about prospects for meeting their ambitious yield target.

The one hectare challenge plot of JB Diego, drilled on October 3 on the Wilton Estate near Salisbury, Wiltshire is yet to show significant variation from the surrounding farm crop.

In view of the very wet autumn and winter, it is holding-up well. Improved weather in late-February certainly helped but, like most wheats, the crop is still well behind where it should be.

Mr Goodman says: “We didn’t get off to an ideal start with drilling and early crop development delayed by the weather but we’re making the best of a difficult situation. If we get some warmth soon we have every chance of reaching our target.”

“Temperature is the real inhibitor,” notes Mr Jex, “The cold wet soils are holding everything back. Our current focus is very much on developing an optimal canopy with the greatest tiller retention and root development through the most appropriate crop nutrition and use of growth regulators.”

Soil conditions prevented the first split of nitrogen going on until February 28, when 100kg/ha was applied in a carefully balanced sulphur compound.

Application of an early growth regulator is planned by the end of March to improve tiller and root development.  “The decision about whether to apply it before or at T0 is becoming blurred, ” says Mr Goodman. “We have to hold off until temperatures allow our preferred enhanced PGR to work. So if we don’t get warmer weather soon we will be looking at a T0 timing.”

The cold weather has, however, had the benefit of holding weed as well as crop growth back. “As temperatures rise we’ll see more weeds appearing,”

Mr Jex notes. “With our challenge crop on chalk ground we’re not expecting grass-weeds to present a significant problem. And early cleavers and pansies are responding well to our autumn-applied residual. So, providing the crop tillers quickly any weeds will be suppressed before they have a chance to make their presence felt.”

Fortunately, the challenge crop hasn’t been as badly plagued by slugs as many this season either, mainly because conditions allowed the seedbed to be rolled effectively after drilling. Thereafter, applications of slug pellets in late October and early November proved sufficient to keep them at bay.

On the disease front, the agronomists are keeping their eyes well peeled for mildew this season. Thriving in cool, humid conditions, proliferating in cloudy weather and often affecting poorly-rooted backward crops, they think they may well see significant levels over the next couple of months.

“We’ll certainly be including a mildewicide with our pre-T0 or T0 spray if the disease becomes apparent as current variety resistance ratings are not a good guide where spring infections are concerned,” points out Mr Jex.

“It will be interesting to see how Septoria tritici develops this season too,” he adds. “We can’t find it in the crop yet, but it goes through a latent period where visual symptoms aren’t expressed.  And we know airborne spores from the high levels of infection we saw last season will have infected the crop.  While cold temperatures may have inhibited early development, we also know how quickly infections can build-up when conditions are warm and wet. So it’s vital we act early if levels show signs of building.

Initial test results show the soil has a particularly high pH at 7.8, together with a low availability of manganese and copper.  Under these circumstances topping-up supplies of both trace elements are another early season priority.

“We also know magnesium levels are adequate, phosphate and potash indices are 2.0 and 2.4 and levels of other nutrients are reasonable,” reflects Mr Goodman. “Just like our challenge crop last year, we’ll be keeping a close check on how supplies in the crop are shaping-up, though. That way we can correct any imbalances if and when they appear. Our first tissue samples went off for testing in early March so we can make any initial adjustments at T0.”

Planned Treatments for March:

  •  Pre T0 PGR +/- mildewicide
  •  T0 fungicide
  •  Micronutrients + PGR
  •  Two applications of nitrogen
  •  Any necessary post emergence weed control

 Farm Facts

  • Challenge crop is being grown on land farmed by North Hill Farms, Wilton Estate
  • Farm manager – Tim Goodman
  •  1215 ha arable
  • Rotation – winter wheat (feed), OSR, and winter or spring barley
  • Challenge crop is a first wheat
  • Soil type is predominantly clay-loam over chalk
  •  Min-till cultivation methods
  •  Rotational ploughing to ease grass-weed pressures

 With thanks to Arable Farming