March 1, 2021
Talking Agronomy – Jo Bell – February 2021
Once again, we have more than our fair share of cold, very wet soils. Official figures show double the long-term average December rainfall in parts of our region. And, as we go into the second half of January, some of our ground has been underwater for nine straight days.
We have not had many N-Mins back yet. In fine-tuning our fertiliser plans, though, it is safe to assume soil nitrogen levels will again be low. We will, of course, be confirming this with some well-placed field testing, along with good plant counts. That way we can ensure our early spring nutrition is as precise and efficient as possible.
With nutrient use efficiency at the forefront of our minds, we will certainly be giving the newly introduced Liqui-Safe for urea ammonia nitrate (UAN) a try this spring. Although we remain to be convinced of the opportunity it offers for a single spring nitrogen application, its ability to reduce environmental losses, improve crop performance and add spraying flexibility is really impressive.
Better seedbed nutrition will also be a priority for our spring crops, with the accent firmly on protected phosphate to minimise nutrient lock-up. This will include upping our game with peas and beans based on the striking all-round improvements delivered by the Agrii-Start Pulses formulation our R&D colleagues have developed.
Some decent January frosts will have kept the mildew and yellow rust clearly visible in our wheats before Christmas well in check. Even so, we are remaining especially vigilant with the worrying rust vulnerability of so many of today’s varieties. This vigilance extends to the wheat bulb fly that can cause us such serious problems, frit fly that has also been noticeable, and slugs that have gone underground but definitely won’t stay there once the weather warms.
With the weather again getting in the way of the best-targeted winter treatment, we will be keeping a careful eye on BYDV in our barleys too, knowing that grain aphids are well able to survive the frosts we have had so far. Rather than further insecticide spraying unless unavoidable, our emphasis here will be helping crops grow away from infections with extra nutrition – manganese and zinc, in particular.
Despite the wetness, some of our oilseed rape is very forward while other crops – especially those set back by spring barley volunteers – are much smaller. Flea beetle larval counts seem low. But previous experience means we are not counting any chickens anywhere yet; not least with pigeons and surviving gamebirds making their presence felt.
It is just a matter of waiting for ground conditions to allow us to make a start on our OSR fertilisation, informed by careful GAI assessments. In the few cases where we didn’t manage to apply a second autumn fungicide we will also be backing-up our light leaf spot treatment as soon as we can.
To get the most out of this and our other spring sprays, we are currently testing farm water supplies well beyond simple pH, measuring the level of ions actually responsible for lock-up rather than just hardness. That way we can match our H2Opti conditioning far closer to actual water quality.
I have to say, our winter linseed is looking very well and hasn’t been forward enough to need a Christmas PGR. However, black-grass control remains a serious challenge.
Sugar beet lifting continues, albeit with little enthusiasm due to the disastrous yields. Mostly down to virus yellows, the season’s weather and late cercospera certainly haven’t helped here.
The Emergency Authorisation just granted for Cruiser seed treatment offers a glimmer of hope. But the conditions involved make it vital we fully understand all the implications before jumping in. Not least, exactly what being unable to plant a ‘flowering crop’ within 22 months or oilseed rape within 32 months actually mean for our future options – including cover cropping and stewardship.