February 27, 2013
Striking the Right Balance
It’s been raining up here in West and South Yorkshire without much let-up for almost
11 months now. So it’s hardly surprising heavy land crops, in particular, are presenting such a challenge coming into the spring; a challenge that will demand the most delicate agronomic balancing act to deliver the goods.
Across the region about 70% of our winter cropping actually went in and, although hugely variable, the vast majority of this should deliver a reasonable harvest. Providing, that is, large areas of decidedly backward wheat, barley and oilseed rape get the early TLC they so clearly need.
Vigorous OSR hybrids like DK Excellium, DK ExPower and Compass have really shown their value in coping with less-than-ideal establishment conditions and getting away from winter early. With such limited autumn and winter spraying opportunities, we’ve also particularly appreciated highly competitive, free-tillering wheats like KWS Santiago.
However, relatively little nitrogen carry-over from last season and serious leaching over the persistently wet winter means early N is currently a key priority across all our crops to boost root mass, support OSR canopy development and maximise wheat tillering. We’re looking to ammonium nitrate rather than urea for the most rapid availability. And little and often is our watchword as small plants simply can’t utilise big early applications.
With ground conditions as wet as they continue to be as I write (in early February), though, we have a major dilemma. Backward crops need urgent nutritional attention. Yet the heavy land most of them are on won’t be in any fit state to take the spreader for a good while.
We’ve a similarly difficult balance to strike between need and practicality this spring with the sprayer.
We want to support spring fertilisation with a good early dose of the Nutriphite PGA our extensive research has shown to be so valuable in stimulating root development and mineral uptake, together with key micro-nutrients to optimise the efficiency of nitrogen usage.
At the same time, our backward wheats will really benefit from early applications of either the enhanced chlormequat PGR, Adjust or Meteor (chlormequat + imazaquin) as an extra aid to root development.
Restricted autumn and winter spraying makes spring weed control especially important too. While we’re fortunate not to have serious problems with black-grass, both ryegrass and annual meadow grass invariably need attention.
Fop and dim chemistry becomes about the only option with both OSR and barley after the end of February. This is very much a last resort. But it may be one that ground conditions force us to take. Equally, we must be aware that about the last thing backward crops as vulnerable as many are this season need is much extra stress from spray mixtures. Again, a careful balancing act will be essential.
We’ll also need to keep the right balance in the extra spring crop drilling we’ll be seeing this season. In particular, it will be vital to appreciate that seedbed conditions are far more important than sowing date.
Good pre-planting Roundup weed control will be vital. And both seedbed N and the extra boost of Take-off seed dressing should be especially valuable.
Ground ploughed before the end of January is likely to work down into a decent seedbed. However, it may well be better to put a cover crop into any heavy land that still remains to be ploughed rather than struggle to get a good enough seedbed, produce a very poor crop and compromise the best early entry for the coming autumn.
In striking the right balance for this challenging season, above all we are planning for the greatest possible flexibility in everything we do. That way we can take advantage of every opportunity field by field as and when it arises.