Sam Patchett Blog: Facing-up to the challenge

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November 1, 2016

Sam Patchett Blog: Facing-up to the challenge

Having fended-off flea beetle from late-sown OSR, Sam Patchett is facing-up to the challenge of late-sown wheat on bad black-grass ground.

It couldn’t last, I suppose. While we didn’t have any flea beetle problems early on, the little blighters have certainly made their presence felt in our late-drilled OSR.  Nothing horrific like many have been suffering on the Wolds. But, with much shorter days and distinctly autumnal nights, quite enough to prevent heavier land crops, in particular, really getting away.

A couple of pyrethroid sprays with a good root-boosting dose of Nutri-phite PGA and our planned metazachlor-based herbicide in place of pre-ems has, however, seen them through well enough to 3-4 true leaves by early October. So, with cooler conditions preventing such rapid beetle re-population after spraying, it looks like we’ve weathered the mini-storm.

In complete contrast, our August-sown rape has shrugged off the challenge, confirming the value of the even greater emphasis we’ve put on earlier drilling, vigorous varieties and seedbed N this time around. So much so, that we’ve had to calm things down with some early metconazole in a number of cases.

Most of our winter barley is in the ground and coming through, although in some decidedly variable seedbeds. To the east of my patch near Hull where it has been much drier than Wakefield in the west, heavier ground that has been ploughed for better grass weed control lost too much moisture for my liking, making double-rolling essential.

Where grass weeds aren’t a problem, we’ve been getting on with wheat drilling from mid-September too. Again, the speed and evenness of crop emergence has depended on the quality of the seedbed which has mainly been determined by the method of cultivation.

It’s a difficult balancing act. We want to preserve enough moisture in our seedbeds but we can easily preserve too much for our mainly power harrow drill combinations if the weather turns against us.

Although too much moisture becomes a bigger risk the later we sow, the far greater problems we’re having with black-grass these days means that mid-October drilling is the target for an increasing proportion of our ground.

Having the resolve to hold-off when others are drilling like mad is certainly a challenge. However, we only have to visit Stow Longa to see how crucial this is, along with a careful integration of other cultural with chemical controls. And we know lower slug, insect and disease pressures and better pre-em residuality can be real advantages with later-drilling.

Alongside patience, flexibility is the key to success here. The last thing we want to be doing is mauling our wheat in. Instead, we must be prepared to hold-off until we can get a decent seedbed. Even if this means holding-off until the spring.

This is where winter varieties like Skyfall, Evolution and Dickens which can perform well from sowing in November through to the end of January and are relatively competitive against black-grass are so valuable. Or flexi-wheats like Mulika that are equally productive from spring sowing.

Mindful of the extra environmental challenge they face, our late-sown wheats will be going in at higher seed rates, dressed with Take-off and manganese, where necessary, and followed with a solid flufenacet-based pre-em. We’ll also be managing them very much like second wheats as they come into the spring.

Agrii agronomist, Sam Patchett works with growers across West and South Yorkshire as well as his own family’s farm (

You can email Sam your comments and opinions via

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