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November 5, 2013

Counting our ‘mixed’ blessings

A decent amount of rain from mid-October has had mixed welcoming, I can tell you. In some cases it has hampered drilling while allowing our new crops to take full advantage of the nice open autumn that comes as such a relief after last season.

So, with the exception of a few deliberately later sowings, we’re going into November almost entirely drilled-up and in a far more positive frame of mind than we were a year back. The vast majority of our rape is looking very well – almost too well in places. Our winter cereals have been coming through within 10 days to two weeks of sowing. And – fingers firmly crossed –  we’ve had few slug problems so far.

The rainfall has also been valuable where we’ve held-off drilling to get on top of problem grass weeds. The black-grass may not have had much dormancy but until recently in the east of our patch it was far too dry to get any sort of chit for Roundup spraying. Now we’re good to go …….. providing the ground doesn’t get much wetter, that is!

It’s surprising, though, just how firm many of our fields have remained in the face of several inches of rain in a remarkably short period of time. Certainly they’ve stayed firm enough to drill despite appearing too wet to work at first sight.

Having said that, though, the rain is starting to get in the way of our autumn spraying. It’s early November now and, in many cases, it hasn’t been possible to act on recommendations I wrote in mid-October.  This means we’re going to have to be especially alert to developing threats and as flexible as we can in adjusting our regimes to tackle them.

Our oilseed rape is waiting on its autumn fungicide. Thankfully, there’s only a small amount of phoma about yet. But we need to be on early as possible with the metconazole we’re including  in our flusilazole base to deal with forward crops now up to the “Wellington Boot height” growth stage.

As soon as the weather permits most crops will be getting Nutri-Phyte PGA with their spray to help boost rooting and, where additional grass weed control is needed, some tepraloxydim in the mix.  After all, propyzamide time still looks like being a good way off.

New clethodim has done a really good job where we’ve used it. But this has only been where we’ve had particular issues, simply because its restrictions limit our spraying flexibility far too much.

Now our winter cereals are hardening sufficiently, it’s also exasperating not being able to get on with our post-ems. Annual meadow grass is our main target and we need to catch it small. As we do with the ryegrass and brome that is far more problematic than black-grass up here. In all cases we’ll be making the very most of chlorotoluron for the last autumn we’re allowed to use it, especially on barley crops.

If it continues to stay mild we’ll be including a pyrethroid in the spray wherever the new T-Sum reports we’re receiving from our local weather station decision support service indicate crops are at particular risk from aphids and therefore BYDV.

We’re also keeping a careful watch on mildew levels in both barley and wheat crops; especially on our lighter, more manganese-deficient soils. Too much mildew in the back-end really saps crop energy and restricts all-important rooting.

We’re remaining vigilant on the slug front too. Aided by the early dryness,  minimising green carryover, effective cultivation and double rolling wherever necessary have all helped keep seedbed populations in check. But the threat has increased markedly with the wet, so we won’t be relaxing until the cold weather sets in.

We won’t be relaxing for a good while at our Brotherton iFarm either. The 120 acres of maize  growing for the first time to power the AD plant being built this winter is fantastic. But it’s not on the lightest of ground and the rain has come just as it was set to be harvested. Even in a good season then we continue to have our fair share of frustrations.