Sam Patchett Blog: Careful early season management

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February 22, 2016

Sam Patchett Blog: Careful early season management

Despite the wetness, most crops are coming through the winter well. But they will need particularly careful early season management.

As it’s been wet, windy or both since we were ready to go on with our post-em sprays in the autumn the first priority with our wheats this spring is a good weed tidy-up.  Our pre-ems worked well but weeds have continued to come through in the unbelievably mild winter.

We want to get our preferred mix of Hatra and Chekker on as soon as possible to prevent  weed growth sapping nutrients and eating into our crop potential. At the same time, though, we need to avoid night frosts and soil damage. It will be a careful balancing act.

The mild, wet season means we’ll need to be up to the mark with our early wheat disease control and growth regulation too.

Growing robust varieties like Dickens, Revelation and Relay gives us the sort of leeway we have to have in our spray timing. Even so, we’ll be making sure we keep firmly on top of Septoria, in particular, with a T0 triazole supported by a multi-site protectant – either folpet or chlorothanonil.

We only want to invest where we need to. But we simply cannot allow either Septoria or yellow rust – which we are also very wary of after so little real winter – to get ahead of us. Not least with all the spring livestock management pressures we have. By starting off right, we have the opportunity to economise later on if the season allows. Get it wrong early on, though, and we know we’ll have a far more challenging and costly battle.

Along with disease, we’ll be doing as much as we can to address shallow rooting concerns with our wheat and barley T0s.  We’ll be including Nutri-Phite PGA with most sprays, using a low temperature PGR with the more forward wheats and including foliar manganese, zinc and copper in many cases.

Agrii trials have shown valuable and high cost effective plant health and yield benefits from better trace element nutrition, even in the absence of obvious deficiencies.  Manganese is especially important on our lighter land and zinc can really help crops cope with stresses like BYDV. Speaking of which, we’re keeping a careful eye on aphid levels after such a mild winter in case we need to add an early insecticide to the programme.

Our winter OSRs are a real mixed bag. All are well-rooted but mid-February GAIs in early sown crops are between 1.5-2.0 while those we couldn’t get in until later are nearer 0.5.

Backwards crops will be getting their first nitrogen as soon as the ground is fit to travel. But we’ll hold off on the early N where GAIs remain high and use Toprex or Caryx in our stem extension spray. The specialist PGRs worked much more consistently and evenly for us than our traditional metconazole last year.

With light leaf spot risk levels as high as they are, wherever the disease becomes apparent we won’t be waiting for stem extension before going in with prothioconazole and/or tebuconazole. So by the time you read this a number of our crops may already have had their first spring spray.

The mild winter means we’ll be on red alert for pollen beetle as the spring picks-up pace too, assessing their resistance status carefully to ensure the most effective and economic insecticide use.

Most of our spring cropping ground was well set-up before Christmas. So, although the heavy land is standing very wet just now, with the right amount of patience it should give us some decent seedbeds for our increasing area of spring-sown pulses, barley and linseed.

As usual, we have a good amount of fodder beet going this spring. With the best yields coming from the earliest drillings, it’s hard to resist the temptation to get going. But as ground conditions are so essential to success, patience will be very much a virtue here.

I have to say though our patience is wearing particularly thin with the RPA at the moment. Many of us still have no indication of when we’ll receive our single farm payment. Surely the powers-that-be understand how crucial this cash is as we face such intense crop and livestock market pressures?

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