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May 3, 2013

Every Little Helps

After starting to pick-up encouragingly in early March, most crops up here have, at best, stood still into the start of April. As I write (April 12) we’ve lost a good month of spring growth – not to mention an ever-increasing area of oilseed rape – to a combination of the arctic blast and voracious pigeons.

Our Number One priority is to make sure we do everything possible to protect ourselves from further losses. Even though we’ve got some decent potential in many of our wheats, it certainly won’t be a season to remember for most. But it will be a year that rewards the best, most determined and timely management.

We know spring will eventually arrive – almost certainly as abruptly as the rain did this time last year. So we’ll be seeing a surge of development as crops play their inevitable catch-up, putting spraying days at a premium, once again.

It’s not saying a lot, I know, but our winter wheats are the best crops we have in the ground right now. They received a good amount of early N, little of which will have leached out under the March snow cover. So they’re well-placed to move ahead as soon as temperatures allow.

After hugely disrupted autumn spraying, our first priority here is a decent graminicide to tackle ryegrass and black-grass wherever they’re a problem. Not only that but to spray it sufficiently ahead of the start of our disease treatment programmes which – fingers firmly crossed – should be well under way by the time you’re reading this.

We may still be able to get some T0s on, as planned, to protect Leaf 4 in our more forward crops – particularly the rust susceptible varieties than didn’t receive a fluquinconazole seed dressing. Thankfully, there’s no sign of yellow rust yet. But we know how rapidly things can change and any outbreak would spell disaster for such vulnerable crops.

The concertina’d growing season means most of our programmes will be starting at T1. This delay makes spraying at Leaf 3 emergence more critical than ever. Detailed dissection of varieties at our key monitoring sites across the country will be especially valuable in helping us to accurately predict growth stages in the highly variable crops we have.

A robust T1 will also be vital to tackle septoria, protect more rust susceptible varieties and enhance crop physiology wherever possible. All the more so as thinner crops rely on a far greater yield contribution from their lower leaves.

Carefully adjusted to match individual crop needs, our T1s will fall into three main groups. For forward crops with active Septoria tritici we’ll be looking for some decent kick-back as well as protection with an SDHI/triazole combination. Rust susceptible varieties will be receiving a triazole/strobilurin mix. And backward crops to will get a triazole with multi-site protectant, folpet.

We’ll be adding a single PGR for most crops, together with a specialist phosphite/amino acid combination to maximise nutrient utilisation, and manganese where needed.

While there clearly isn’t much call for growth regulation in most of our OSR, foliar nutrition is a priority here too. Small roots and cold soils are making timely magnesium, boron and molybdenum applications and phosphite/amino acid enhancement vital at stem extension to allow crops to make the most of their nitrogen and sulphur fertilisation.

The combination of extreme cold, wetness and pigeon pressure has done few favours for Northern oilseed rape. Having said that, the fact that most of our surviving crops are
DK Excellium, DK ExPower and Compass underlines the insurance value of these tough hybrids.

They’re well behind where we’d like them to be. But it’s still early days yet. So we’re looking to get every crop with any potential through to flowering as well as we can, and hoping for flowering weather far closer to 2011 than last year. Crops set to flower later and over a more extended period than usual means we’re on high alert for both pollen beetles and sclerotinia. After all, this year more than ever, we need to hang on to every kilo of potential they have.