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January 19, 2015

Planning to be flexible

It’s only mid-January and there’s plenty enough winter still to come. However, this season is already bearing an uncanny resemblance to last time around.

For the most part, our crops are well established and forward after another especially growthy autumn and early winter.  The bulk of our ground remains so wet that the prospect of much in the way of early fieldwork remains decidedly remote.  And we’re seeing a clear build-up of the Septoria that caused us so many problems in 2014.

Thankfully, December brought us some much needed cold. The latest Met Office figures for northern England show 11 days of air frost in the month against just threein 2013. Even so, every time we look like getting a decent cold snap, the mild weather seems to roll back in to nip it in the bud.

Unlike last year, we’ve yet to see much in the way of rust development yet. January scoring of the Bishop Burton wheat plots in our National Cereal Disease Survey, though, shows 26 of our 39 monitored varieties carrying worrying levels of Septoria and 22 with significant mildew. Unless we really do get some winter in the next few weeks, early action again looks like being critical to prevent the former, in particular, doing some serious damage.

Across our extensive UK trials network we recorded an average of 0.75 t/ha extra wheat yield from a timely, relatively low cost T0 spray last year. This is something we simply cannot afford to ignore as we do everything we can to deliver the yields we need for the lowest possible cost per tonne that is our key priority.

Having said that, the vagaries of the weather these days mean our main plan for the coming season is to stay flexible. We’ll be keeping the closest eye on the way infections develop, treating them as and when required.

With the marked differences we’ve seen in disease development and recorded in fungicide responses between varieties in recent years, we’ll be doing this very much on an individual variety basis too. And using disease ratings derived from our latest variety trials and up-to-the-minute monitoring which we’re finding to be much more valuable than average RL data.

We’ll be basing most of our T0s on the multi-site activity of folpet, using chlorothalonil as an alternative in some cases and adding a low dose of triazole where particular rust protection is required. It all depends on the level of risk. This will give us the right platform to make the most of the particular T1 and T2 programmes we found so effective in preserving green area last season.

Although the variety mix my clients have is significantly stronger in the standing department than it was last year, we’ll be taking advantage of the T0 to go in with an early PGR in a split regime and provide tactical trace element support wherever necessary. Early PGRs have been particularly valuable for us in encouraging more backward crops to root and tiller. At the same time, our research is underlining just how valuable the best balanced nutrition can be in producing heathier plants better able to withstand disease.

As soon as we can travel our first job in the wheats will be a good grass weed tidy-up. We’ve been well-pleased with our autumn weed control in general, but the early winter weather really got in the way of post-em spraying.

Then we’ll be looking to kick-off our fertiliser dressing with an N:S compound from early March before starting in on the fungicide programme from later in the month.

Alongside this, of course, we’ll be moving rapidly into our OSR fieldwork. If we don’t get enough cold to knock them back, once again early nitrogen certainly won’t be a priority for most of our crops, although we’ll be as keen as ever to get enough sulphur applied ahead of stem extension.

High levels of phoma resistance in most of our OSR varieties allowed us to delay their autumn fungicides so we could better target light leaf spot. This has proved very effective in keeping both diseases well at bay. So we’re nicely set to go in with our spring fungicides for both disease control and canopy management – as much to shorten the flowering period as the plants – from early stem extension.

Again, as well as the weather, we’ll be fine-tuning the precise mix and timing to the variety and crop condition, keeping our options open to ensure the most cost-effective balance of activity.

Just like the wheat, we’ll be using the spring fungicide to keep on top of micro-nutrition, with big plants likely to have a high demand for boron and molybdenum, in particular.

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