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May 12, 2014

Full of Northern Promise

April proved a welcome relief from March in allowing us to catch-up with herbicide spraying, in particular, without have to resort to the sort of widespread tank-mixing unorthodoxy that seemed likely a month back, writes Yorkshire-based agronomist, Sam Patchett.

With T1s safely on our wheats and the cold start to May slowing crop development to make flag leaf full emergence unlikely until the middle of the month apart from very early drilled wheat, the current spell of decidedly unsettled weather isn’t causing us too many concerns. Indeed, as the saying goes up here, ‘a cold, wet May fills barns with corn and hay’. So the omens aren’t at all bad.

Having said that, the Septoria pressure is immense and looking more like rivalling the season before last with every week that passes. Thankfully, our robust SDHI-based T1s should hold the disease at bay sufficiently to enable T2 applications to be timed for the best possible flag leaf protection so essential to yield.

Wheat T2 applications will be based around a strong triazole rate (typically 80% of the full rate) or SDHI’s to keep Septoria tritici at bay with the inclusion of a multisite protectant fungicide. Where yellow rust is likely to be a problem the addition of a strobilurin will be necessary.

As well as the usual suspects like Oakley and KWS Santiago, we’ve been finding plenty of yellow rust in varieties we wouldn’t normally expect it.  The Dickens and Relays of this world have repaid our faith in them by continuing to stay nicely clear of infection to date.  The same can’t be said of Horatio, though, even December-drilled. All-in-all, this is a salutary lesson for mixed farming areas like ours where T0s aren’t always practicable.

Providing we keep on top of both these disease threats – and any fusarium which may rear its ugly head – I’m more optimistic for the wheat harvest than I have been for several seasons. Even crops on some terrible old opencast ground are looking really promising.

Of course, the cold, wet May could extend into June and beyond. Or a serious drought could cause our current confidence over soil moisture levels to evaporate. So, as ever, we’ll have to wait and see just what the summer brings.

With their awns out and receiving their T2s as I write (at the end of the first week in May) our winter barleys are full of promise too. And really, really clean thanks, in part, to a timely SDHI at T1.

Decent moisture levels have seen our spring cereals fair motoring along, although slugs are still active on heavy ground. Also up and away well are the spring beans and two fields of combining peas I’m looking after.

We weren’t overly excited about much of the winter OSR early on. But our crops have certainly bulked-up and filled-in well as they’ve flowered to look as good as I’ve ever seen them at this stage.

The acute shortage of spray days in March meant our spring fungicide sprays were on the late side at green to yellow bud. However, this is enabling us to get by with a single sclerotinia spray in most cases. Although it will depend on seeing an end to a flowering period which has been prolonged by good crop branching and colder nights.

Being DK ExPower, most of our crops are pretty big and well-developed as we shut the gate on them. Our PGR applications have worked well, though, and rooting is excellent. So, barring another monsoon summer, the lodging risk isn’t too great.

Far slower out of the blocks initially but looking fantastic now is the small amount of low biomass hybrid, DK Sensei we’ve been trying.  The fact that the tractor-mounted sprayers barely touched the crop as the mid-flowering sclerotinia application went on was particularly appreciated.

The demonstration plots at our Brotherton iFarm are shaping-up to give visitors to our mid-June open day a really good insight into the latest wheat and oilseed rape varieties and agronomy. We’re taking advantage of the AD plant currently being installed by the Booth Brothers on the site to evaluate the performance of a range of energy beet and forage rye varieties as feedstocks.  The farm’s initial maize crop really didn’t yield well enough to rely on last season. So with all the past experience we have in growing sugar beet up here, we have high hopes for the root crop in particular, and look forward to discussing the options with visitors at the informal energy cropping evening we’re running alongside the open day.