Sam Patchett Blog: Much-needed early May warmth

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May 27, 2016

Sam Patchett Blog: Much-needed early May warmth

Much-needed early May warmth has made all the difference to Sam Patchett’s winter crops, although they and most of his spring crops remain very vulnerable to the vagaries of another highly unpredictable season.

At long last we’ve had some real growing weather, but not before a lot of snow in the last week of April again brought fieldwork to a shuddering halt.  Although wheats on light and heavy land are still like chalk and cheese as I write in the second week of May, things are definitely looking-up.

I really don’t know how, but we managed to get all our planned T0s on. Timings were far from ideal in many cases. But, helped by the cold conditions, they did a good job of holding back Septoria, along with yellow rust on susceptible varieties.

Thankfully, given the large amount of yellow rust about in many cases, our emphasis on avoiding varieties with any doubts over resistance is paying dividends. Even so, we have a few crops of Reflection, JB Diego, Santiago and Claire that have required special care in our T1 spraying over the past week.

Anything showing any sign of yellow rust received a good dose of strobilurin, together with a multi-site protectant and triazole combination for Septoria. With such a high risk of this taking off in warm weather, the bulk of our crops also had an SDHI at T1.

As well as a PGR, we also prioritised well-formulated foliar trace elements at T1. My research colleagues have shown just how valuable these can be in extending green leaf area. And, with crops struggling to access nutrients from the soil in the cold spring, they’re more essential than ever this season.

We’ll be bolstering our Septoria control with a strong SHDI/triazole combination at T2, which should be on by early June. Even if the weather turns dry, we won’t be making many compromises here.  Septoria is far too much of a risk for us and we know how quickly it can develop with any summer rain.

As we feared, our grass weed control has been seriously compromised by the cold, wet spring. In some cases we’ve seen late-applied mesosulfuron-methyl/iodosulfuron-methyl do a remarkable job on black-grass and ryegrass, but in others it has failed completely. We’ve already sprayed off one crop of wheat and there’ll be more patch-spraying than we’d like in the next few weeks to minimise seed return.

Light leaf spot in our winter rape is every bit as troublesome as it was last year; especially where spring spray timings were badly disrupted by the weather. So we’ve been using a combination of boscalid and metconazole as our mid-flowering treatment in most cases, including tau-fluvalinate to target seed weevils wherever they’ve previously been problematic.

With cold holding early insect activity back nicely and the warmth pushing flowering along rapidly, we haven’t needed to spray for pollen beetle at all. And we have high hopes that a low early sclerotinia risk and reasonably short flowering should avoid the need for a follow-up spray.

Against the odds, most of our spring crops are in the ground and coming through.  Some spring bean seed is still in the shed, though; the land being fallowed instead to avoid throwing good money after bad.

Even the earlier spring plantings have a lot of catching-up to do and we’re giving them as much agronomic support as we can.  Ironically, what they need more than anything now is enough rain and what they, and our winter crops, can least deal with is a dry spell.

The weather has actually started to help rather than hinder us. But most of our crops have to move forward strongly despite seriously restricted root systems in many cases. So they need all the help they can get, and it won’t take much drying-up for them to suffer badly.

Speaking of suffering, I have to mention dairying where the emphasis is, understandably, on producing low cost milk from home-grown feed. With this imperative, in several cases we’re planning to sow forage rye this autumn to give at least one silage cut ahead of maize planting next May. We’re also making a determined effort to boost pasture productivity by the best possible grassland re-seeding. And we’ll be whole-cropping a bigger acreage of spring peas this season, which will also provide a valuable earlier autumn crop entry.

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